We have all heard about 3D-printing by now. The technology of printing something in three dimensions is not new. But how exactly does it work? And more importantly, how could 3D-printing affect the construction industry?
How Does 3D-Printing Work?
Traditional machining techniques are “subtractive.“ In other words, take a piece of material and cut or drill excess material to get your desired shape. To the contrary, 3D-printing is “additive.“ Basically, the machine prints layers of material, one on top of another, until the desired shape is achieved. The process is somewhat akin to brick-laying, but with much less effort.
The process begins with a model of the object or objects to be printed. Models can be created through a CAD (computer aided design) program or with a 3D scanner.
The printer reads the 3D-model file and lays down successive layers to produce the three dimensional object. The two main manufacturing approaches are powder approach which creates the shape of the object by adding a binding agent to the powder and the polymer approach which pumps out fine drops of polymer and cures the material with UV rays. The result of either approach is the same – a three dimensional object that was created by a printer.
How Can 3D-Printers Affect the Construction Industry?
The technology of 3D-printing has been around for a years, with 3D-printers becoming commercially available in the early 2010s. Researchers have been utilising 3D-printing to further medical research and testing on various organs. In addition, 3D-printers have been used to print guns, clothes, shoes, and even food.
But what could 3D-printing do for the construction industry?
At last year’s 3D Printing Conference, Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis of The University of Southern California’s School of Engineering, lecturing about Contour Crafting, conveyed the very real prospect of constructing large scale structures, buildings in particular, with 3D-printing.
According to Dr. Khoshnevis and his team, “Contour Crafting technology has great potential for automating the construction of whole structures as well as sub-components. Using this process, a single house or a colony of houses, each with possibly a different design, may be automatically constructed in a single run, embedded in each house all the conduits for electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning.“ Dr. Khoshnevis’ 3D-printing technology uses concrete to build walls, which he believes is the future of the construction industry
Meanwhile, last month in Amsterdam, a group of dutch architects began 3D-printing an entire house. The 3D Print Canal House as featured in the video to the right, is the brainchild of DUS Architects, is an architectural research project, testing the limits and capabilities of 3D-printing buildings. The house is being made of plastic and is expected to take 3 years to complete, which would hardly seem like a realistic alternative to traditional construction. Nevertheless, this project could serve as a breakthrough in construction using 3D-printing.
Other companies are jumping on the bandwagon offering 3D-print house construction kits and assembling villages of 3D-printed houses.
It remains to be seen how 3D-printing will alter the construction industry, but it is definitely a trend worth watching.