The global construction business has grown in market capitalization since the mid-1900s, and today it boasts an incredible annual value of $10 trillion. Still, the individual firms face significant obstacles when it comes to competing effectively in the current market – labor shortages, increasing material costs, and issues with supply chain are just three reasons why most construction projects in 2017 run over time and over budget.
Every crisis presents an opportunity, however, and the leading firms in 3D printing technology are viewing inefficiencies in the construction industry as a chance to use highly disruptive approaches to change the ways that construction firms do business. We’re excited about the potential that 3D printing is showing in its early stages of adoption, so we wanted to bring you this article while looks at just how 3D printing technology is injecting itself everywhere in the construction business.
What is 3D Printing?
It’s difficult to understand the potential of 3D printing without a clear understanding of the technology itself. 3D printing is a manufacturing process that can be used to create physical objects based on digital designs. This is achieved using an additive process – an object is created by a physical machine that prints layer after layer of material until the object is completed.
The huge potential for 3D printing comes from its versatility – we can choose what materials we use to print an object, and the number of different objects we can make is only limited by our imagination and ability to produce 3D designs that the printer can read. If we want to build larger objects, we simply build a larger printer.
As you can imagine, this technology is already being applied in numerous ways that range from manufacturing fighter jets to prototyping prosthetic limbs for ducks and horses.
Applications of 3D Printing in the Construction Industry
Prototyping – At first, 3D printing was being used primarily to create prototypes that could be used in proposals or meetings with clients. The ability to translate a three-dimensional design into a physical model is useful for allowing clients to physically see how a design will look before approving it.
Prefabrication – 3D printers can be used to prefabricate components for construction projects, especially housing, meaning that developers could construct parts of houses off-site and transport them for rapid assembly.
3D Printed Homes and Buildings – A big enough 3D printer with the right materials can print a home in under 24 hours today, and in the next section, we’ll explain just how that’s possible. The ability to 3D print homes in a short time period will dramatically reduce the cost of home ownership, minimize the environmental impact of population growth, and save tons of time and materials.
Big Players in 3D Printing Construction
The recent excitement surrounding 3D printing in construction is heavily linked to what the biggest 3D printing firms have been able to achieve in the construction space over the last ten years. Here are some of the biggest players in construction 3D printing and what they’ve accomplished:
WinSun Global – Based in China, WinSun is probably the best-known 3D printing construction firm, famous for 3D-printing a house in under 24 hours. This is accomplished using a massive 22-foot tall industrial 3D printer that gets the job done quickly because it can print the entire house from one design – a smaller printer would print multiple pieces that workers would then attach. The firm combines cement with construction waste in an innovative process that yields a partially-recycled building material that’s durable and environmentally friendly.
Qingdao Unique Products Develop Co. – Another Chinese firm, Qingdao has been around since 2001 and is credited with building the largest ever 3D printer. The printer weighs over 120 tons and has a build volume of over 1700 cubic meters – it can build an object with a footprint of 144m2 and a height of up to 12m. Qingdao uses graphene glass fiber reinforced plastic as a printing material – it’s lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and environmentally friendly.
MX3D – The Dutch firm, which describes itself as “printing outside the box” is at the cutting edge of 3D printing technology. While most other firms are focused on prefabricating or printing houses, MX3D is pushing to the next level by constructing a 3D-printed bridge in Amsterdam. How? Using an advanced six-axis industrial robot with an advanced welding machine attached and the ability to print objects in mid-air.
3D Printing is such a rapidly growing area of technological innovation that we can hardly keep up with the changes. We’ve seen that the biggest firms are building huge printers that can build an entire house at once, but their approach isn’t the only way forward. Researchers at the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia have recently created Minibuilders – an army of smaller 3D printing machines that can work as a team to print skyscrapers! When it comes to incorporating 3D printing into the construction industry, it looks like the sky’s the limit.