When contractors think about technology, we all have our views on what will work, what might work, and what won’t work. And for some, 3D printing falls into that last category. After all, many still think of 3D printing as a manufacturing tool used in factories. However, this view is rapidly changing as practical applications of 3D printing in construction are developed.
Construction 3D printing refers to various technologies that use 3D printing as a core method to fabricate buildings or construction components. For example, a special concrete mix is extruded through a nozzle head to build structural components layer by layer without the use of formwork or any of the typical vibrating of concrete within forms. The wall sections can be printed in a shop and shipped to the job site or fabricated on-site.
3D Printing of Footings and Foundations
When I think of 3D printing in construction, footings and foundation come to mind. With precision accuracy, a 3D printer can hold to specific dimensions and elevations that are programmed into the system.
With the potential for reduced labor hours and material costs, I believe this technology will gain greater acceptance in the concrete foundation industry once the systems become more portable and the upfront costs are reduced.
World's First 3D-Printed Apartment Building Constructed in China
WinSun, a company based in China, has claimed to have built 10 houses in 24 hours using 3D printing technology. Interestingly, the materials consisted of ground construction, industrial waste, and a base of quick-drying cement mixed with a special hardening agent. WinSun has also used this technology to print a five-story apartment building and an 11,840-square-foot villa. This process can reduce labor costs by 50 to 80 percent, decrease production times by 50 to 70 percent, and cut construction waste up to 60 percent.
The Institute of Advance Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) has found a way to take soil from the ground, mix it with just a few additives, and turn it into a construction material that has a tensile strength three times higher than that of industrial clay.
This is an enormous discovery that could change the construction industry. If a team can print 3D buildings from soil, then they can take this setup to the poorest countries in the world and build schools, houses, and even hospitals from the ground we walk on.
Engineers, mechanics, and computer technicians are all working together to shape 3D technology in the construction industry as it continues to evolve from a novelty to practical job site application.
As with many new technologies, the upfront costs are initially high. After the technology has been around for a while, we tend to see costs drop to where smaller contractors can justify the investment. As we continue to move into the future of building technology, it seems 3D printing is here to stay.