3D Printing in Construction

by Brian Frederick
December 13, 2017

3D printing is changing how construction works

Twenty years ago, if you had told someone computers would be able to generate almost anything from scratch, you would’ve been looked at like a crazy person. Even as little as five years ago, it would’ve seemed more like something out of Star Trek than a real technology. But we’ve come a long way. 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is everywhere now.

And it’s revolutionizing a variety of industries, not least of all construction. Let’s take a closer look at this groundbreaking technology, how it works and how it may change your business.

The history of 3D printing

Believe it or not, 3D modeling dates back to the early 80s, when Japanese researchers began creating plastic models using UV light to harden polymers. There was some interest in the process, but it really began to take off in 1992 when fused deposition modeling, the type of 3D modeling you’re probably most familiar with, was developed. By the 2010s, the technology had advanced far enough that metal end use parts like brackets and nuts could be created with 3D printers. And this seems to be only the beginning.

How it works: the basics

3D printing usually starts with a CAD drawing, a scan from a 3D scanner or the use of special photo software. Once it has the design, 3D printing program will correct any errors in the mode and process it as thin “slices.” These slices are thin layers that will be created one at a time to generate the model. Over the course of several hours or days, depending on the size, the 3D printer creates the model.

What it means for the construction industry

If you haven’t worked with 3D printing on a construction job yet, it’s only a matter of time until you do. It’s everywhere. From a recently opened bridge in the Netherlands that can support up to five tons, to a Chinese house built to be capable of withstanding an 8.0 earthquake, 3D printing is showing its versatility.

Its growing popularity can be attributed to several reasons, first and foremost is the cost. 3D printing offers the potential to dramatically reduce both labor and material costs. This could be particularly beneficial for developing countries, where better homes could be built at a lower cost.

Design innovations are another opportunity for materials made with addictive manufacturing. Eliminating the restrictions of rectangular forms for concrete elements, 3D printers could open the door to sweeping and curving structures that were previously extremely difficult, if not impossible.

And then there’s the ease of construction. The European Space Agency has plans to build a settlement on the moon by 2030, created entirely from 3D printed materials.

Wherever there’s a need for rapidly produced or inexpensive buildings, 3D printing will soon find a home. And that could not only revolutionize the construction industry, but the entire world. Imagine quality, affordable housing for everyone on the planet. Or infrastructure projects like bridges completed in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost. It’s not science fiction — it’s 3D printing.

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