A Complete Guide To 3D Printing in Construction
Businesses all across the world have been transformed by 3D printing technology. It lets companies create models and prototypes quickly, accelerating their ability to test and create innovative products. Also, it makes it simple and economical to create the parts and components needed to maintain essential machineries—such as medical testing and diagnostic equipment—operating as intended. The 3D printing market is expected to expand. According to a study by Grand View Research, the global use of 3D printers is estimated to rise from 2.2 million units to 21.5 million units between 2022 and 2030, representing a 20.8% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the market.
The construction sector is one of the most intriguing markets for 3D printing technology. Whole houses, workplaces, and other structures are increasingly being built using 3D printing. Buildings developed using 3D printing can be thousands of square feet large, have numerous floors, and be produced for less expenditure and with less waste than conventionally built structures.
What is 3D Printing?
Industrial 3D printing is a manufacturing-based method that turns digital plans or designs into tangible materials and products. Engineers input building designs and floor plans into large-scale machinery used in this process. The machine is then loaded with concrete and other building materials. The mixture of building materials is subsequently applied via an extendable arm, or nozzle, under the guidance of software. Then, layer by layer, the complete building or structure is constructed (or “printed”) as per the engineer’s instructions. While approaches differ, many 3D printing procedures only need a small amount of additional assembly labour from employees.
3D-printed objects and ideas can be created using a variety of specialised technologies. A continuous thermoplastic filament is utilised in the 3D printing process known as fused filament fabrication, or FFF. It’s also known as fused deposition modelling (FDM). Stereolithography (SLA), a different 3D printing technique, creates models, structures, and patterns layer by layer using a photochemical process in which light transforms a liquid resin into hardened plastic.
Material Used for 3D Printing
Applications for 3D printing in engineering and construction are numerous. Buildings of all kinds and degrees of complexity, including single-family homes, multistory business buildings, and bridges, have been created using 3D printing. The materials utilised to make 3D-printed constructions must be trustworthy because these structures must be as durable as those that are constructed traditionally.
While a variety of materials can be used to create 3D-printed structures, concrete, fibre, sand, and geopolymers are the most often used ones. After being completely combined in a sizable “hopper,” these various raw materials can then be fed into the extrusion machine and stacked into the appropriate shapes and patterns. Moreover, houses have been 3D printed using entirely biodegradable materials like mud, soil, straw, and rice husks.
Origin of 3D Printing
3D Printing first emerged in the middle of the 1980s with the development of stereolithography. SLA transforms a liquid resin into a solid substance by acting as a powerful laser. SLA is an additive technology, which means it builds products layer by layer, starting from scratch. Though 3D printing is often referred to as any method that makes parts in an additive manner, SLA is still one of the most widely used 3D printing technologies today. Other well-known additive methods include direct metal deposition(DMD), selective laser sintering, and fused deposition modelling (FDM).
Prototype pieces were first easily and precisely created via 3D printing. Yet, its useful applications started to increase as additive methods got better. Even architectural businesses used 3D printing to create scale models before the advent of building information modelling (BIM). It didn’t take long for it to be used for more ambitious construction goals.
Several large-scale efforts and projects in the construction industry have utilised 3D printing for more than ten years, such as:
- It is commonly acknowledged that the first attempt to 3D print a wall was made in 2004 by a professor at USC.
- An entire canal house constructed with 3D printing was finished in Amsterdam in 2014.
- A 3D-printed residence was finished in China in 2016.
- A significant advancement in technology in the commercial construction industry was made in 2016 when the Dubai Future Foundation used 3D printing to construct its Office of the Future. The 2,700-square-foot building, which is fully operational, was created using a 120 x 40 x 20-foot 3D printer. The building process only lasted 17 days.
- The construction 3D printing market is currently expanding rapidly and is anticipated to reach $1.5 billion by 2024.
Advantages of 3D Printing
Given that some businesses have used 3D printing to construct offices, homes, and other structures, the advancements of 3D printing can address many issues of conventional construction. The following are some benefits of using 3D printing in construction:
Continuous 3D printing is feasible with minimal oversight. It has already been proven that it is capable of quickly erecting a house or other structure from the ground up. Compared to traditional construction, which might take months or years to complete, that is a much shorter period of time. You save roughly 60% of the time on the job site and 80% of the labour, claims Marco Vonk, marketing manager at Saint-Gobain Weber Beamix.
Recycling and reducing:
Construction Dive estimates that there are currently more than 1 billion tonnes of construction trash produced annually and that by 2025, this amount will be doubled. While 3D printing won’t be able to completely eliminate the issues with construction waste, it can still be useful. This is largely because 3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique that only employs the material required to build a structure. The likelihood of a waste-zero building increases when combined with other waste-reducing procedures and construction techniques like prefabrication and lean construction.
The design flexibility provided by 3D printing is one of its many wonderful features. Architects can build complex designs that would be impossible, expensive, or labour-intensive to produce using traditional construction techniques. This might make it possible for the commercial construction industry to be much more innovative and creative. It is a perfect replica of what you designed on paper and can be bent, angled, or made into almost any unique shape you prefer.
Lower Human Influence:
Together with reducing human waste production on building sites, 3D printing offers the potential for nearly error-free construction sites.
High-quality structures for customers can be created with 3D printing, which can also lower the number of accidents that occur on construction sites. Humans are frequently limited to simply monitoring the machines because printers are capable of functioning 24/7.
Unlike traditional construction techniques, which rely on recycling blueprints and templates, 3D printing enables the creation of unique solutions. With the use of modern architecture software, architects may develop imaginative buildings. For instance, you can modify the models in the programme and print them again until you build the finished product if customers desire a particular design or unique patterns for their homes or offices. This can be accomplished with little expense or labour involved.
Limitations of 3D Printing
Regardless of the benefits and promise that 3D printing offers the construction industry, many factors could prevent the technology from becoming widely used. Let’s examine some of these limitations.
The exorbitant expense of buying or renting such equipment, as well as the logistics required in moving these enormous 3D printers to the job site, maybe the biggest obstacle to the broad adoption of 3D printing technology on construction sites. The price of 3D printers is high, and that price doesn’t include supplies or upkeep. Many construction industry professionals find it challenging to compare the costs of 3D printing to their advantages at the moment.
One long-standing worry about 3D-printed structures is that the technology cannot, by itself, make them sustainable. While 3D printers can create structures like walls and frames, they have historically fallen short when it comes to necessities for daily life like infrastructure for running water and power, or even just HVAC work. New techniques are being developed for printing some fundamental electrical and plumbing components as a result of advancements in 3D printing technology in recent years. Engineers may also create homes using simple 3D-printed constructions that are easily modified with conventional plumbing, wiring, and ductwork.
There is a huge need for skilled personnel because the building industry is developing. There aren’t enough of them, which is the only issue. Even with the labour constraint, 3D printing requires an even more specialised skill set, necessitating the recruitment of a smaller and more specialised pool of applicants. Finding suitable personnel to work in 3D printing building environments could prove to be even more difficult in the future.
The fact that 3D-printed constructions typically prove to be less solid and sturdy than more traditional buildings is an even more major issue. This is due to the fact that over time, the materials used to create 3D-printed buildings tend to degrade and lose some of their structural strength. Engineers have been developing new material techniques that can endure rigorous testing and adhere to all applicable building safety requirements for a very long time. There have already been a lot of breakthroughs in this area, such as improving current concrete and polymer mixes and adding biodegradable components.
Weather has the ability to impede construction already, but 3D printing may exacerbate these problems. Conditions such as weather, the environment, and more could prevent the use of 3D printing in commercial buildings from seeing a surge. Additionally, quality assurance in construction is already a challenging issue. The quality of 3D printing could become a very costly issue if it is not regularly monitored and controlled by actual people.
Despite the fact that 3D printers have advanced significantly, there are still certain technical restrictions with the machinery. Even though it’s one of the most appealing claims about 3D printers—that they can perform the tasks of several different machines at once—many of them are actually limited in their capabilities. This indicates that while they may create massive constructions, they may not always be intricate or detailed. The development of new construction techniques that are effective and affordable while also enabling a greater range of precision and usefulness is one of the industry’s main objectives today. Organizations like WinSun in China have gained recognition for their incredible productivity (including the ability to construct 10 homes in a day, with each costing approximately $4,800 to construct), but it is still unclear how long these structures will actually last.
The regulation of 3D printing is one disadvantage that may not be apparent at first. Even though 3D printing regulations have lately been in the headlines, they haven’t yet had a significant effect on the building sector. Yet, there is also the potential liability associated with employing printers rather than people to carry out specific construction activities. This element of 3D printing in construction is now filled with uncertainties. It’s improbable that 3D printing will have much of an impact on the construction industry until laws and regulations are properly defined.
Even though it continues to face long-standing issues, the construction industry is ready for innovation. The use of conventional construction techniques can be expensive, time-consuming, and risky for the environment. Civil engineers have a lot of chances to address these issues and potentially make the design and construction of sustainable structures easier and more inexpensive through the accuracy, speed, and dependability of 3D printing. There is countless potential for this cutting-edge technology given the advancements over the last ten years.