Published on 2/21/2020
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Is 3D Printing the Future of Construction?
3D printing construction never really gained much of a footing in the industry until recently
Is 3D Printing the Future of Construction?
By Tom Simpkins
Despite emerging as a construction method in the 90s, 3D printing construction never really gained much of a footing in the industry until recently. It was only with extensive research, innovative thinking and advancements in technology that serious developments and possibilities became more prominent, being explored more & more.
Much like the technology itself, the 3D printing industry continues to grow & improve, being utilised in more & more industries each and every year. Exciting developments with 3D printing has seen the technology enter the world of car manufacturing, food production and even construction.
Known as ‘additive manufacturing’, 3D printing technology creates ample opportunities to manifest designs & concepts, with the only limit being the materials that the tech can make use of. This is where the introduction of additive manufacturing within the construction industry begins to become truly fascinating, as 3D printing can use anything from concrete to wax to create layered walls, bonding components and even strong foundations.
With the potential for more experimental designs, efficient creations and easier builds, 3D printing looks like it’ll become more & more common in the construction industry. With additive manufacturing seemingly printing out the horizon, a question is becoming increasingly relevant; is 3D printing the future of construction? To answer this question, Lift Mini Crane Hire, the spider-crane specialists, take a look at case studies from around the world and how different companies are exploring this exciting new technology.
Image Courtesy of Building Supply DK
Significantly Quicker Construction
One of the greatest benefits of additive manufacturing is the streamlined process of building. Once a design has been finalised 3D printing can begin, with some technology even being able to create a house’s main structure in mere days. The potential for speedy construction was probably best showcased by the Shanghai-based company, Winsun, that managed to achieve the seemingly impossible task of printing ten houses in a single day.
In a particularly promising and considerably more practical 3D printed construction case study, a collaboration between the University of Nantes and the Nantes city council managed to create everything for a four-bedroom house, with the exception of the windows, doors and roof that were installed over four months, within an astonishing 54-hour timeframe.
Francky Trichet, the technology & innovation lead within the Nantes council, stated that “for 2,000 years there hasn’t been a change in the paradigm of the construction process; we wanted to sweep this whole construction process away.” With this hallmark achievement, it appears that the progress of modern construction has already shifted significantly.
Even more impressive than these feats are the results of the Russian company, Apis Cor, who have developed a mobile construction 3D printer, the likes of which offers greater flexibility for construction companies and potentially removes a lot of time from the construction process itself, especially compared to traditional construction methods.
Image Courtesy of The ICON
The overall cost of the former construction method was approximately 20% cheaper than conventional methods, roughly costing around £176,000 to complete, yet the latter example, Apis Cor’s House, cost even less.
Progress slows for no company though, as an even more impressive step is the Texas-based company, ICON. Developed in order to provide homes for people living in tragic conditions in El Salvador, ICON’s prototype 3D printing technology, titled Vulcan II, is staggeringly impressive. As well as being capable of creating a house within a jaw-dropping 24 hours, the first version of the prototype costs roughly $10,000, with projections claiming that this price could fall to as low as $4,000.
ICON is currently working with various partnerships around the world to provide these kinds of homes to more people, so the future looks bright for the company. However, it’s worth noting that these homes can be created so quickly and cheaply due in part to their size, which when compared to other 3D printed construction methods may appear too small.
Image Courtesy of WATG
The Future of Construction Design
ICON’s focus on modest homes for modest prices isn’t the only direction 3D printed construction is taking though, as other companies have begun exploring how to think a little grander. Pioneers such as the Eindhoven University of Technology and WATG’s Urban Architecture Studio have proven that intricate and stylised designs are very much within the realm of possibilities thanks to this technology. Prime examples of such include the Eindhoven University of Technology’s alien-looking, commercially sold houses and WATG’s winning pitch for the Freeform Home Design Challenge.
Another triumph for grand design was achieved by the aforementioned Winsun, who created their ‘office of the future’ in Dubai. Produced for the Dubai Future Foundation, the Office of the Future took 17 days to print, being monitored by only one designer, and cost $140,000. One of the advantages to their sleek, modern 3D printed house was that the on-site team consisted of only ten electricians and specialists; roughly amounting a 50% reduction in labour costs.
The reason that this iconic building is so indicative of the future of the 3D printed construction industry is that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashis Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates announced that, due to buildings such as the Office of the Future, 25% of Dubai’s buildings were predicted to be based on 3D printing technology. This confidence in new technology was reinforced when Maktoum stated “we implement what we plan and we pursue actions, not theories. The rapidly changing world requires us to accelerate our pace of development as history does not recognise plans but achievements.”
With such confidence in 3D printing technology, it seems that the construction industry would be wise to embrace this new surge of potential and consider how 3D printing can be best utilised in the future.
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