3D printing is no new concept. The technology has been generating quite a buzz over the last decade or so, thanks to its efficiency, reliability, and precision. While sectors like automotive, robotics, healthcare, etc., have famously adopted 3D printing to good effect, the same cannot be said for others, like in the case of construction. Now, this is one sector that can hugely benefit from 3D printing! This is not to say 3D printing has never been experimented in construction before. There have indeed been forays. What’s missing is widespread adoption.
But why is such an adoption in construction necessary in the first place? The same reason why other industries are fast embracing 3D printing: it saves a ton of time, money, and effort. It is also incredibly sustainable, meaning its environmental impact is quite minimal. Being notoriously resource-intensive, construction sector, therefore, has a lot to gain by adopting 3D printing.
This blog takes a detailed look at the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of adopting 3D printing in construction. But before that, let’s get the ‘what’ out of our way.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a method of creating three-dimensional objects layer-by-layer using a computer-created design. It’s an additive process, whereby the layers of material are built up to create a 3D part.
It's a technique for creating construction materials or, say, whole buildings by adding concrete, polymer, metal, or other materials, layer-by-layer to a 3D printer. It also goes by the name of additive concrete or 3D concrete.
The three primary 3D printing processes used in the building industry are extrusion (concrete/cement, wax, foam, and polymers), powder bonding (polymer bond, reactive bond, and sintering), and additive welding.
Construction 3D printing, as we saw earlier, is not a recent discovery by any means; research and early development have been ongoing since 1995, although it was limited in scope and implementation. Today, however, it has become relatively simpler to integrate 3D printing, thanks to the advent of other technologies like computer-aided manufacturing and BIM (Building Information Modelling). Such developments mean construction 3D Printing is destined to soar to new heights in the coming years.
Today’s world is all about efficiency and productivity. Several sectors have already reacted to this by replacing muscles with machines, thus taking significant strides in terms of productivity. For the construction industry, however, it’s a totally different story. The industry is plagued by worldwide trends such as "labor and housing shortages", which continue to hamper its chances of attaining peak productivity. These concerns are specifically addressed by adopting 3D printing technology.
Businesses, nowadays, are actively in the hunt for fresh ideas to help bridge the gaps as the construction sector confronts increased pressure to fulfil strict timetables and budgets. Where a technology such as 3D printing can be beneficial is in its ability to affect practically every stage of the industry's value chain.
It is typical of major projects to take 20% longer than anticipated and incur cost up to 80% of the original budget. But thanks to 3D printing, this time may be cut by up to 70%, meaning a project can be finished in a matter of hours or days, depending on its size! This, in turn, would allow contractors to take on additional projects, thereby providing them an avenue to expand their source of income.
As Marco Vonk, Marketing Manager at Saint-Gobain Weber Beamix said, “You save about 60% of the time on the job site and 80% in labor.”
More Cost-effective and Sustainable
Up to 60% less waste may be produced at the construction site thanks to 3D printing, which enables the right quantity of material to be utilized to raise a building. Assuming lower costs for both the purchase and subsequent storage of the materials, there won't be any surplus in their purchase either. Companies, therefore, will find themselves saving time and cost aplenty, thus attaining massive growth spurt.
Employing 3D printing can also be very helpful in areas where there is a high demand for projects and labor scarcity. Remember, 3D printers don't require sleep or meals, their working hours are more flexible, and they operate much more quickly than people. And the faster you build, the more money you save. By automating the creation of a structure through 3D printers, companies can see a reduction in labor costs of up to 80%.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one out of every ten construction workers experience an injury each year.
But by adopting 3D printing, one can effectively guarantee the health and safety of the employees on the job site. Workers may complete their tasks more quickly and avoid field accidents if they know how to use printers properly.
Currently, more than 1 billion ton of building waste are produced annually in the world. Even if 3D printing couldn't completely eliminate the issues with building waste, it can certainly play a part in reducing it. Being an additive manufacturing technique, it only utilizes the materials required to build a structure. By doing so, a significant cost savings is possible.
Besides, they can also use recycled materials. Combine this with other waste-reduction and building techniques like prefabrication and lean construction, constructing even a zero-waste building may be feasible in the future.
Reduce Human Error
Since 3D printers are totally automated, human error is eradicated. Although the machine has to be watched over, much of the production process doesn't require human assistance. Furthermore, 3D printers don't require any extra tooling. They produce the construction according to a plan that they have created.
The design flexibility provided by 3D printing is one of its many wonderful features. Architects can even build complex designs that are thought to be impossible, expensive, or labor-intensive to produce using conventional methods. This could make it possible for the commercial building industry to be much more innovative and creative.
The building process won't be slowed down or affected by last-minute design revisions. By allowing you to make changes up until the point at which the building is printed in 3D, even last-minute issues or alterations can be eliminated.
Innovation in Design
The final but equally significant advantage of 3D printing in the building sector is all the creative alternatives it offers. Because they may be utilized as early as the design stage, 3D technologies can help you plan your projects better. In order to satisfy the client's expectations and provide the best design options, they start with CAD designs of the buildings and all the criteria dependent on them.
Moving on to large-scale projects, additive manufacturing allows you greater creative flexibility and enables the creation of novel shapes and answers to our problems.
As you can see, adopting 3D printing in the construction sector has a lot of advantages, and the businesses that have latched on to the bandwagon are already reaping its benefits. The innovations that additive manufacturing offers are refreshingly flexible and not limited to any particular type of building. What’s more, it can help manage a project better, right from its early phases through its manufacturing. Because nearly no material waste occurs during the 3D printing process, structures can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional methods.
All things considered, 3D printing has too much promise to be ignored. The technology will eventually develop and advance greatly, even if the industry may never get to the stage where it's employed entirely. For the future of our building, 3D printing is positioned to be a practical option that offers significant advantages in terms of cost savings and environmental friendliness.