3D printing has recently gained major attention by the construction industry since projects like house building, machine building and even equipment building have become commercially realizable in the near future. As part of our top tech trends in 2017 series, this article will guide you through the world of construction 3D printing. Let’s have a look at recent major projects, really shaping the construction industry right now!
The construction 3D printing market has significantly evolved within the course of the year. I would like to share some astonishing, ongoing or recently completed projects.
Single parts of the house may be individually designed and subsequently be digitally assembled to one complete structural design. The printer is then able to accurately produce the created digital model. This allows complex and tailormade architecture. Even though there have already been printed single parts of buildings, like walls, façade, ornaments, etc., it was not before January that the first residential 3D house was printed in one piece. In just 24 hours, the Russian company Apis Cor built the first large scale concrete print in one piece! Watch the video and get yourself an impression of how far construction 3D printing has come!
In The Netherlands there is another ambitious project in the planning phase. So far, 3D printers in construction were stationary. In Amsterdam, however, the startup MX3D is working on a fully automatic construction of a metal bridge with moving 3D printing industrial robots. The robots are supposed to print the bridge in one go, by printing their own support structure. This astonishing project is even planned to be completed this year! Watch Joris Laarman, designer and co-founder of the company, describing his project in the following video.
It is not only buildings that are printed in the construction sector. In fact, this year at Conexpo in Las Vegas, the first full size, fully functional 3D printed excavator was presented. The cabin, the boom and the heat exchanger were printed in one piece and put together with the other components in a project called Project AME (Additive Manufactured Excavator). Industry partners, university students and Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers worked together to build this first large-scale steel print. To learn more on the project, read the respective article of Construction Equipment. Also, watch the excavator operate live.
Experts from all over the world consider construction 3D printing a decisive opportunity to prevent housing shortage in times of an exponential population growth. Thanks to the fast, cheap and especially accurate construction, robust and affordable housing is built in no time. This might also be particularly beneficial in areas of great need, e.g. in disaster areas. The elimination of waste further provides a decisive ecological advantage over traditional construction methods.
Even NASA has its plans with construction 3D printing on different planets and recently started the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge to collect ideas for how sustainable housings may be printed in space. As 3D printing further evolves, local materials, like Martian ice or moon rock might even be used to print buildings. By this means, the costly transport of construction materials from Earth would be omitted.
On the other hand, experts from the construction sector, in particular, still consider construction 3D printing a complementary method rather than a replacement of traditional construction. They state that quality control is an issue that still needs to be resolved. At the moment, regulations are too high to be able to commercially print housings on the spot. Single parts built in a factory under monitoring and quality assurance processes might thus be more applicable in the future. Read more on the opportunities and challenges of construction 3D printing in The Guardian’s article on 3D printing in the construction industry.
3D printing is also referred to as Additive Manufacturing (AM) and has mainly been used for prototyping and geometrically complex components in the beginning. Printing materials like plastic quickly got complemented by metals, ceramics, paper, bio materials food or a combination of those. In the future, it may even be possible to use more kinds of materials.
When 3D printing became applicable in the construction sector, early projects realized plastic houses. With the evolution of printing materials, construction 3D printing naturally got more advanced. Today, printing buildings with concrete is becoming usual. The BBC published a nice overview of the first 3D printing attempts in construction, explaining how robotics will shape the construction of buildings in the future.
If you would like to get some more information on Construction 3D printing in general, the Designing Buildings Wiki offers an extensive platforms on construction industry knowledge on all levels.
The term Construction 3D printing usually refers to the 3D print of buildings. However, there are much more applications that will become relevant for the construction industry in the future. Machinery and other equipment, e.g., will be shaped by 3D printing as well.
To print entire components which are suited for the harsh conditions of the construction sector, however, is not that easy. Especially if it needs to resist heat, water, dust and vibration. In preparation of what is to come in the future, MOBA has already been using 3D printing for more than 10 years, e.g. for prototypes and testing purposes.
Thank you for reading and please leave a comment! I’m curious about what you got to say about 3D printing!
Here is a 3D printed excavator bucket to brighten up your day. Probably, it won’t take long until real-sized excavator buckets get 3D printed. What do you think?