In 1945, Murray Leinster,an American writer of science fiction in his short story ‘Things Pass By’ described the basic idea of 3D printing for the first time. Three decades later, what he conceptualized in the story was becoming a reality. Around the 1980s materials and manufacturing equipment for 3D printing had begun developing gradually but steadily. It has now become a major technology disrupting and impacting the manufacturing industry .
3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of making 3-dimensional solid objects using a digital file. At first, a designer comes up with a 3D model digitally using Computer-aided Design (CAD) softwares like Fusion360, Solidworks, etc or using Building Information Modelling (BIM) softwares like Revit, AutoCAD,etc. Once the digital 3D model is ready, it is sliced into numerous layers using a slicing software and is then fed to the 3D printer for it to be printed layer by layer.
3D printing is widely used for creating prototypes of one’s design. Rapid prototyping using 3D printing is time efficient, cost-efficient and gives a better visual understanding of one’s design. From prototyping to real-sized buildings or objects, with constant discoveries, research and development over the years 3D printing has revolutionized the industry sector and continues to do so and evolve further. It is now being used in the automobile industry, in medicine, in fashion, in construction and in various other large-scale industries. Needless to say, this technology has been impacting these industries profoundly and contributing to their growth in a major way.
Construction 3D printing started developing a lot later, around the year 1995. Two methods were developed then ,one by Joseph Pegna, pioneering inventor of 3D printing and the other by Behrok Koshnovis,President and CEO of Contour Crafting Corporation. The former developed the sand or cement forming technique and the latter developed contour crafting which is widely used in the Construction 3D printing industry.The architecture and construction industry have been benefiting massively with the development and evolution of 3D printers. Initially in construction, 3D printing was solely used for creating scaled models or prototypes of designs but currently it is also being used for creating building components and printing out fully-scaled structures or buildings. 3D printing gives a designer freedom to design the most complex and innovative designs according to what he or she has envisioned. Construction 3D printing primarily depends on the digital 3D design, the materials for construction and the printing technology used. It is used for both off-site and on-site constructions. When printed off-site, the building sections are printed in a factory and shipped to the site of actual construction for assembling. Development in 3D printing has led to the construction of houses, apartments, bridges and other civil infrastructures at a quicker pace without compromising on the quality. Apart from printing entire structures, it is used to construct structural elements such as columns and other components like cladding, panels and tiles.
Various Methods of 3D Printing in the Construction Industry
The various processes in 3D printing are developing constantly with the development of robotics and cutting-edge technology.
Extrusion using Robotic Arm Extruders
Installation of rails around the building ground is done to direct the robotic arm of the 3D printer. Extrusion of concrete is done layer by layer by the nozzle and the trowels placed above it flatten the extrusion.
Sand 3D Printing
Italian architect Enrico Dino developed sand 3D printing using his ‘D-shape’ 3D printer. In this method, layers of sand of required thickness are first deposited and then a binder is used to harden it. The method is still in its lab stage and has not been used for construction yet. But it might be used in future.
Additive Welding with Metal
MX3D,a Dutch company using a construction method known as WAAM (Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing) has developed 3D printing of metal structures.The 6-axis robot developed along with Air Liquide and ArcelorMittal consists of a nozzle and welder to weld metal rods. At present It is being used to manufacture steel and metal components. However one needs to be cautious as a certain amount of heat is required to melt the metals and it needs to be shielded from other atmospheric contaminants.The method is indeed innovative and its development will definitely be a boon for the architecture and construction industry.
Usage of 3D printing helps in constructing flexible and complex designs with ease. The days are not far when we would be seeing new forms and shapes of houses more than the normal square or rectangular ones. A big plus point about 3D printing is it requires less manual labor hence cutting down the chances of human error during the construction and it is also cost effective. Soon even the middle-income groups can realize their dream of owning houses that will fit their budget.
With climate change, it has now become extremely important to protect our environment. 3D printing can contribute in a big way towards environment conservation, as it uses the exact amount of material required and cuts down the waste generation and carbon emissions drastically. According to Wikipedia, 600 million tonnes of waste was produced in 2018 by the construction industry. With development in material technology, 3D printing will lead the way to eco-friendly homes that are constructed with sustainable materials and almost zero waste generation.
An Italian 3D printing manufacturer, WASP has been using raw earth and rice waste to 3D print structures. TECLA, a sustainable habitat model by WASP and MCA is a circular structure constructed within 200 hours entirely created with reusable and recycled materials sourced locally that can adapt to any climate. It is a demonstration of how construction can be optimized while minimizing the use of manual labor, energy resources and materials for construction. So, one not only gets an amazing sustainable innovative design but also saves a lot of money.
3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing, because it creates an object by adding a material layer by layer to a void space. Conventional manufacturing is the opposite; it is a subtractive process where one starts with a huge block and reduces it by designing it the way one wants. Well this itself is a demonstration of how 3D printing produces less waste compared to conventional methods.
3D Printing and Parametric Design
Well it is all possible with 3D printing. 3D printing makes building of complex designs feasible without time constraints and provides a larger spectrum for a designer’s ideas. It takes very less time for a 3D printer to be set up. When building on rugged terrains and underdeveloped areas, 3D printers can easily be transported to the construction site and set up for construction. A lot of these printers can function using renewable energy and thus making it possible to construct structures even in areas having no electricity. The Vulcan mobile 3D printer can be operated in underdeveloped areas and can easily be used to construct 55-75 square metres homes, in just a single day. One of the first residential buildings, a home in Yaroslav, Russia with an area of about 2985 square meters took almost 2 years to be constructed. Nearly 600 elements of the walls were printed by the company SPECAVIA. Well it does not take that long anymore. The development of ‘contour crafting’ has led to more on-site constructions as it reduces time of transportation and increases the rate of productivity. It has led to the construction of large structures using 3D printers. For instance, take a complex parametric design- to construct it with accuracy with perfect finishing using conventional methods would take many months. Well, constructing the same extremely complex parametric design using a 3D printer would just take a few days. Not only does 3D printing save time but also is accurate and has a perfect finish. Hollow lightweight structures can be constructed easily using 3D printers whereas the same would be tough and time-consuming using traditional methods.
Imagine if one could build one’s dream house in a few days or hours? That becoming a reality is not far away! Apis Cor, a Russian Company constructed a house within 24 hours using the ‘contour crafting’ technique. They used a unique mobile printer to print the structural components.They used their own extrudable material, a mix of cement, sand, geopolymers and fibers. The concrete used for 3D printing is much stronger and harder as it needs to dry and harden quickly for the next layer to be laid. The concrete mix used for 3D printing is quite different. In fact, none of the 3D printers have so far reported the usage of coarse aggregates. Read more about parametric designs here.
Soon, 3D printed houses will become affordable, easier and faster to construct. The UN has reported migration crises are expected to intensify in the near future and the need for affordable and quickly accessible housing is what might help to overcome the problem . 3D printing paves a path to fight homelessness. New Story, a non-profit organization was able to manufacture nearly 100 3D printed homes in 8 months using the contour crafting technique. They are simultaneously developing innovative designs and materials to be used for construction. 3D printed homes have not been commercialized yet as it is still undergoing a lot of technical and material research. In another ten years it is definitely expected to revolutionize the construction and architecture industry with new innovative, sustainable and cheap homes. Development of 3-D printers, AI and robotics might lead to the construction of homes on extraterrestrial terrains, without the presence of men on-site.
3D printing has indeed been evolving rapidly over the years and is going to greatly benefit not only the construction industry but also the other manufacturing industries. When construction is faster, there will be time for more innovative designs and more homes. When everything is faster, the cost of construction too goes down; and this will result in making those with less financial funds able to afford and own a quality home. Will 3D printing be the go-to technology for construction in the next 10 years? Only time will tell. Until then, upload your designs here to get a quote from us.