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3D Printing in the Construction Industry

4th February 2016

3D printing has started to become more well-known in recent years. The technologies involved have come a long way and it’s becoming more practical for use in many different aspects. Originally, 3D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM), was invented as a means of quickly and simply manufacturing intricate or small prototypes for products, but since then it has become apparent that the possibilities don’t just end there.

Various businesses from all around the world have begun to make impressive breakthroughs in terms of additive manufacturing, achieving feats that most would assume are impossible.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing is the computer-controlled layering of materials in order to create a 3 dimensional object. The printer uses a fast setting plastic material instead of ink like in a traditional printer, and creates the object by printing it from the bottom up, sequencing small layers of the plastic on top of the previous layer until the object has been created.

How can 3B printing be used in construction?

Different companies from all corners of the globe have started to apply this concept to the construction industry, basically super-sizing the actual printers then replacing the plastic material with a composite and concrete mixture that’s thicker than normal concrete and dries much quicker. As the concrete mixture is thicker than normal concrete, it’s capable of supporting itself as it sets. This gives the opportunity to 3D print an entire house from scratch; saving time, materials and resources used. The Chinese company Winsun has claimed they were able to build 10 small houses in just one day by using 3D printing methods!

There are many different methods you can use to go about printing full buildings such as houses or apartment blocks, each method varies in the amount of time and labour needed to fully complete the structure. One method involves using the printer on site to create the basic structure of the building, having all the walls, floors and ceilings created through AM in a very short amount of time. All the joinery, insulation, window fitting, painting and decorating would still be done manually through the use of labour. Another method is to fabricate separate segments of the structure in a factory through the use of AM and then ship the segments to the site where they will be assembled. Again with this method, the joinery, insulation, window fitting and decorating would all remain a job for the skilled tradesmen.

What are the benefits?

Having a house fabricated through the use of 3D printers could reduce the amount materials needed to create the house, reduce the amount of waste created by traditional methods, and also save a huge amount of time compared to traditional methods. This could save massive amounts of costs used to build houses and could even result in a simple way to make homes more affordable for everyone. The opportunities are endless.

Although we’re a lot closer to seeing additive manufacturing being used in construction than ever before, there is still a long way to go before the printers themselves, and the methods carried out to make best use of them, are perfected enough for monumental and residential use. It’s currently unsure whether these buildings can withstand strong winds or earthquakes, so it’s going to be a few years before you’re tucking yourself into bed in your brand new 3D printed home that was constructed that very same morning.

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