3D printing in the construction industry Part 1: the benefits
Additive Manufacturing is revolutionizing many industries, construction and architecture are no different. You might have heard about 3D printed houses even back in 2010, but don’t think it stopped then. The technology of producing houses and other structures has dramatically improved and there is so much to discover!
Let’s talk first about 3D printing technologies available on the market, then we will move on to the benefits of 3D printing in the construction industry. And there is plenty to talk about! From better time management, to much faster production, to huge cost reduction, not to mention the fact that 3D technologies have also a much smaller environmental footprint. In the next part of this blog series, we will talk about real-life examples of 3D printed households.
What technologies have been developed?
To start talking about Additive Manufacturing applications for construction, we should first have a look at the available technologies, then we can discuss the advantages. Right now, we have a few options to use 3D printing in the construction industry.
Robotic arm extruders
One of them is a robotic arm extruder, this technology is called contour crafting. It is fairly similar to how FDM printers work. The rails are arranged to let the robotic arm move; and within the limits of the rails, the arm will build the house layer by layer by extruding concrete from the nozzle. This is the most popular 3D printing technology used to build XL structures.
Sand 3D printing
The next 3D technique is more similar to industrial 3D Printing such as SLS or Jet Fusion. The pioneer who tested it is Italian architect Enrico Dini, who built his D-Shape 3D printer. The machine spreads a layer of sand powder, then hardens the shape of the structure with a binder. This is exactly how our metal 3D printers work too!
Last but not least, for structures such as bridges, which have to withstand more stress, Dutch company MX3D developed Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM). The team described the technology: “we combined an industrial robot with a welding machine to turn it into a 3D printer that works with our own software”. The robot allows for 3D printing metal structures in 6-axes.
Why would we use 3D printing in the construction industry?
Now that you know a little about how it’s done, let’s discuss why we do it. One might think we have good technologies for building different structures, we make stable houses, apartments, and offices, is there still room for improvement? Oh yes. Rebuilding whole cities after a natural disaster, giving shelter to homeless people and generally building more sustainable habitats- those are only a few problems that 3D printing can help with.
3D Printing in the construction industry means much-reduced production time. That’s because the machines themselves are very fast, some of them are capable of manufacturing 600 to 800-square-foot (55 to 75-square-meters) home in just 24 hours. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
3D printers are also fully automated, which eliminates human error. The machine just needs to be monitored, but most of the production process doesn’t involve any human help. Also, 3D printers don’t use additional tooling. They have the construction programmed and they just produce it, there is no need for additional support, different materials, and other aspects to keep in mind that traditional methods require.
Almost zero material waste
The main advantage of using 3D printing in the construction industry is saving a lot of production costs on material waste. That’s because a 3D printer, such as robotic arms, uses exactly the amount of material they need. Producing buildings layer by layer and with lattice structures inside allows for a huge cost reduction. Not only that, but they are also capable of using recycled materials.
This factor also benefits the environment. 3D printing has a much smaller impact than traditional ways of manufacturing. An Italian company called WASP took 3D printing into a great development and designed one of the largest 3D printers in the world capable of producing homes out of local materials and using green energy (hydro, wind or solar power). This means much smaller emission, which is a big problem in today’s construction industry.
Last year we talked about the first family to move in into a 3D Printed house. The house in question was produced in Nantes, France and is called the Yhnova project. It took only 54 hours to print the house and the overall cost was about 20% cheaper than building a traditional house. Additive Manufacturing can really help to build a better future for the construction industry.
Cost-effectiveness of 3D printing in the construction industry
As mentioned above, using Additive Manufacturing allows for smaller material usage and involves fewer people to work on building the construction. 3D printing is also a much faster technology. Those factors influence the costs of building any 3D printed construction by bringing them radically down.
While 3D printing structures, we use just the amount of material we need, therefore we are eco-friendly and save money. This aspect can really bring the costs down. 3D technologies also reduce supply costs. We can also save a lot of time, 3D printers don’t need to eat or sleep, their working hours are more adjustable and they are a lot faster than people. And the faster you build, the more money you save.
The last, but just as important benefit of using 3D printing in the construction industry, is all the innovative solutions it brings. 3D technologies can improve your project planning as they can be used already at the design stage. Starting from CAD plans of the buildings, which are technical drawings with all the parameters. Based on those drawings, a 3D model of the construction can be made to meet the clients’ expectations and show them the best design solutions.
Addressing the client’s issues and presenting the right answers to their questions is crucial. Additive Manufacturing helps here. As we just mentioned with 3D technologies, you can present your clients with 3D visualizations of the structure, but that 3D model can be 3D printed. One of our clients, Valoptim, did just that! The family could imagine them already living in the house. Those models allow for high personalization of the structure.
Moving on to large scale, Additive Manufacturing gives us new design freedom allowing for the production of new shapes and solutions to our needs. We have never had such a great possibility to customize structures. Not only the structures themselves, but also the locations. It’s easier to set up a 3D printer somewhere for a few days than move all the workers there. Also, some of the machines don’t even need electricity as they run on green energy, which means that we can reach undeveloped areas easier.
What is the future of 3D printing in the construction industry?
As you can see there are plenty of benefits to using 3D printing in the construction industry and the companies using it already are very successful. 3D technologies help to manage the whole production process, from the early stages of the project to producing it. Structures are being 3D printed at a fraction of the regular cost and time, they are much more eco-friendly thanks to almost zero material waste.
Innovations that Additive Manufacturing bring are available not only in the construction industry but you can also improve your production today, with us. We offer you different 3D printing technologies, from plastic to resin and metal. Don’t wait till your competitors do it, bring this cutting-edge technology to your business today. Contact us in case of any questions or simply upload your 3D file to our online 3D printing service.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog post about the best examples of 3D printed constructions with our Newsletter!