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3D Printing: Advantages and Applications for the Global Construction Industry

Few innovative technologies for construction have captured the imagination quite like 3D printing in recent years. In an industry challenged by cost considerations, it feels like 3D printing might hold the answer to many of the problems currently facing the global construction landscape.

Most of us will have seen 3D construction printers in action by now; it involves the sequential layering of concrete or other materials by way of computer-controlled or automated machines. It requires a special type of concrete that does not set inside of the printer but rather as soon as the concrete is extruded, allowing for rapid and free-form construction.

For our latest blog post, we’ve looked closely at the pros and cons of the 3D construction printing phenomenon.

Benefits of 3D Printing Techniques in Construction

While it has been hailed as a game-changer for our industry, the reality is that completely 3D printed buildings are still uncommon across the globe. Media hype surrounding the concept is largely based on its clear potential, rather than what the technology can actually be used for in 2019.

Some of the innovative concepts for 3D printing include building safe and practical housing for those living in extreme poverty, breaking the mould for residential home design and even erecting habitable structures on Mars before astronauts arrive.

When it comes to commercial construction in 2019 though, there are a wealth of reasons why the 3D printing concept fits in with recent characteristics of the industry.

Shorter Production Times and Reduced Costs: 3D printing can help to eliminate production delays, while the speed of the technology is constantly improving. In 2019, structures ranging from 55 to 75m2 can be manufactured in a single day. From a cost perspective, 3D printing could cut down on material and supply costs and allow for more predictable construction budgets.

Realising Complex or Custom Designs: 3D printing can give architects the green light to look beyond common design constraints. Non-standard shapes and complex designs that can’t be realised by traditional builders are now feasible, allowing architects to unleash their creativity. It’s no more expensive to produce a curved wall section than a straight wall section with 3D printing, so expect to see striking designs even on small-scale projects.

Automation and Sustainability: Many global regions are suffering as a result of skills shortages, and 3D printing requires fewer workers and less supervision to complete a job. As for sustainability, a large portion of the feedstock for 3D printing can come from recycled materials, while the nature of the technology allows for far less waste than traditional building. Forward-thinking inventors are even working toward 3D printers that utilise green energies such as wind, solar and hydro power.

Worksite Safety: It’s not difficult to envision a future where the more precarious aspects of traditional construction are mitigated by 3D printing. Working with concrete to build major structural elements can be dangerous, and reducing the number of worker hours could have a significant impact.

Factors Holding the Concept Back

As has been the case with Building Information Modelling, the construction industry is slow to adopt potentially transformative concepts. It will take a large volume of evidence and supporting statistics for some decision-makers to be convinced that 3D printing is a feasible tool at their disposal.

There are challenges from a regulatory perspective too, due to lack of a track record that shows long-term durability of 3D printed structures. Several regions don’t have building codes in place that recognise 3D printing at all. There are logistical difficulties too, as it can be difficult transporting, setting-up and moving bulky 3D printers on cramped worksites.

The real test of 3D printing feasibility will be applying the technology to large-scale projects. While we’ve seen great success in one-off applications, there is work to be done to create technology that is viable for major developments.

For these and other reasons, it’s possible that the road to adoption will be slow. Despite this, it’s clear that the 3D printing concept carries enormous potential in an industry going through a sustained transition. The World Economic Forum reported last year that 25% of new buildings in Dubai will be made using 3D printers by 2025, as part of an ambitious strategy to reduce labour and costs. If this proves to be successful, we can expect other nations to take notice and explore the idea with greater haste.

Choose CostX® for Cutting-Edge Takeoff and Estimating

Exactal’s CostX® platform is constantly refined and updated to reflect the working methods and feedback of our global client base. Our flagship construction estimating software supports 3D/BIM takeoff, subcontractor comparison, auto-revisioning, spreadsheet-based workbooks and much more.

To reach out to your nearest Exactal office for a CostX® demonstration, feel free to get in contact with us today.