June 29, 2023 | Updated: July 8, 2023
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), has come a long way since the technology was initially conceived decades ago.
And in more recent years, 3D printing has increased in popularity and prominence, with open source further democratizing the technology – major companies and individual enthusiasts alike now deploy the technology to construct everything from car parts to prosthetics to gadgets and gizmos.
But one of the technology’s best applications might be its least heralded – construction.
“3D printing is a rapidly developing technology that has the potential to revolutionize construction,” said Shailaja Patil, IEEE Senior Member. “By allowing the rapid and efficient production of complex construction components, 3D printing enables the creation of highly configurable structures both on and off-site.”
3D Printing and Construction – A Match Made in Heaven
The technique usually involves materials that are commonly used in construction – like concrete.
IEEE Senior Member Manpreet Singh Manna describes 3D printing as “a process that involves building a 3D project layer by layer, using a computer-controlled printer.”
And in the construction industry, 3D printing is particularly beneficial, according to Singh Manna, as it has opened up a new world of possibilities for architects, engineers and builders.”
Additionally, the environmental and financial benefits of 3D printing in construction mustn’t be overlooked – after all, the construction of buildings accounts for 11% of global carbon emissions, according to the World Green Building Council.
“3D printing has enabled the construction industry to enhance sustainability while simultaneously cutting expenses and minimizing construction time,” said Patil. “The technology is truly a promising advancement in construction practices, with some companies even exploring the potential of building with alternative, and more eco-friendly, such as mud, recycled plastic and bamboo.”
According to Patil, 3D printing is utilized in construction in various ways, including:
- Component Prefabrication: Manufacturing components off-site and then transporting them where needed, reducing construction time and costs.
- Formwork Printing: Fabricating intricate shapes and designs to create templates or molds, facilitating the casting of structures to help to reduce the need for traditional formwork, which can be time-consuming and costly.
- On-site Manufacturing: Using a sizable 3D printer at a construction site to develop an entire design, such as a building, which is often faster and more cost-effective than traditional construction methods.
- Concrete Printing: Printing concrete in layers to create various, oftentimes complex, structures, reducing the amount of work required to develop certain shapes and designs.
When it comes to large construction projects, AM can be leveraged at scale to create entire buildings – and even infrastructure.
“Large-scale 3D printers can be leveraged to develop components like walls, floors and roofs for assembly on-site,” said Singh Manna. “This approach has many advantages when it comes to homebuilding, including faster construction times and reduced costs, but it also applies to physical infrastructure – in fact, this method was utilized in Amsterdam and Mumbai to construct pedestrian bridges in the past few years.”
And as the underlying AM technologies – design software, robotics and automation, and materials science – improve, we’ll become capable of printing larger, more complex structures with greater precision and efficiency.
“While 3D printing is not yet ubiquitous in construction, it is rapidly increasing in popularity – and it’s no wonder why,” said Singh Manna.
“The future of 3D printing in construction and industry is exciting and full of possibilities.”