3D printing is a technology that brings endless applications, including in the construction sector. This technology, which has been developing more significantly in recent years, can simplify people’s lives by allowing us to create objects that we use on a daily basis or create elements for different types of models.
But in addition to these simpler applications, this type of printing is beginning to be used for other purposes of greater impact on society, such as in medicine, with the manufacture of prostheses, in food or in the construction sectors.
3D Printing in the Construction Industry
The 3D printing is postulated as a major breakthrough in the world of construction and architecture, thanks to its modelling capability, adaptation, and speed. We are already talking about what 3D printers can do in the future, and advances with this technology will allow us to change the conception of construction in the future, as we know it so far.
The great advance of this technology in recent years and its multiple advantages in sustainability, freedom of design and cost optimization make it an ideal tool not only to construct new buildings but also to restore slums and areas devastated by natural disasters.
An office building in Dubai built in just 17 days, another of five floors for apartments based on a mixture of cement and industrial waste erected in China; a stainless steel bridge assembled by robots – These three examples could well illustrate some of the main advantages of what the European Space Agency (ESA) has already defined as the invention precursor of the Third Industrial Revolution: 3D printing
According to experts, the projects based on 3D printing that have been already developed offer many advantages with respect to current construction procedures. In these cases, there has been a reduction in carbon emissions into the atmosphere, as well as the amount of materials used and the time invested in erecting the structure. Additionally, the construction with 3D printing techniques does not need molds, so the waste produced is significantly reduced.
The freedom of design, the optimization in construction times, in costs, in the generation of waste, or the reduction of occupational risks define the current push that 3D printers are acquiring, understood as a technology-focused on additive manufacturing. According to the report of Deloitte Predictions TMT 2019, this industry grew by 12.5% in 2017, reaching a turnover of 2,200 million dollars.
Popularized for being able to make exact and miniature reproductions of oneself or for its numerous medical applications (human prostheses), textiles (clothing or footwear), or even aerospace, 3D printing, little by little, is monopolizing the interest of the sector of the construction.
How a 3D printer is used in construction?
In construction using 3D printers, a large machine (a macro printer) is used that can combine different materials such as cement, different industrial waste (glass) and a hardening component. This macro printer places the resulting material in layers, according to the model designed on the computer, to complete the different parts of the structure.
Why Use 3D printing in Construction? There are plenty of reasons
Why does the construction sector need to reinvent itself with these new techniques? Well, the advantages are many. That is the philosophy of the Valencian start-up (Spain) – Be More 3D. The company using the technique of contour crafting (a type of additive manufacturing that deposits a layer on the layer), has manufactured the first house printed in 3D in Spain. Their 3D concrete printer is mobile and works without a guide, allowing to print the structure of a house in about 12 hours.
- Cost Reduction
3D construction, when compared to traditional methods, can reduce production costs up to 35%, both in terms of time and labour, it also eliminates occupational risks because there is no activity at height. It also emphasizes the freedom of design – you can make a house or a piece of street furniture the way you want. Strange as it may be, in traditional construction it is much more laborious and expensive. In addition, it democratizes the construction when the designs are shared under an open-source license.
Another great asset is sustainability. An investigation led by Pearce showed that there is a clear environmental benefit when using 3D printing : reduction of waste and energy associated with transport. “These advantages are transferred to construction, where 3D printing reduces the environmental footprint compared to traditional techniques,” says the researcher.
- Less Waste Generation
While in traditional construction there is a lot of leftover material, with 3D printing, molds are not required and the amount of material needed is optimized, so you can create much lighter structures and more efficient and organic buildings that best fit your purposes.
Question of Automation and Unemployment
When such technologies are implemented, there are voices that are raised due to the risk of automation. But it is not all that bad- A 3D printer can print the load-bearing walls, the roof, and the insulation, but not the electrical installation or the plumbing, the floor or the finishes. They will not eliminate the jobs, but just the opposite: employment will be generated and the real estate market moved because many will be able to afford a second home.
Talking about the future, it is believed that 3D printing is a technique that will not completely replace the world of construction, but it will give much faster, more sustainable alternatives than we have been able to do so far with the existing processes.
This future may not be too far away, since, as Guedes says, “we are entering a new era in which finally the price and production speed begin to be competitive compared to other construction techniques.”