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3D Printing Technology in Construction

Building printing refers to various technology that use 3D printing (sometimes referred to as Additive Manufacturing (AM) as a way to construct buildings by computer-controlled sequential layering of materials to create 3 dimensional shapes It is particularly useful for prototyping and for the manufacture of geometrically complex components. Potential advantages of this process include quicker construction, lower labor costs, and less waste produced.

It was first developed in the 1980’s, but at that time was a difficult and expensive operation and so had few applications. It is only since 2000 that it has become relatively straight forward and affordable and so has become viable for a wide range of uses such as; product design, component and tool manufacture, consumer electronics, plastics, metalworking, aerospace engineering, dental and medical applications, footwear and so on.

The sales of AM machines or ‘3D printers’ have grown rapidly and since 2005, the home use of3D printers have become practical. 3D printing at a large scale may be well suited for construction of extraterrestrial structures on the Moon or other planets where environmental conditions are less conducive to human labor-intensive building practices.

Developments in additive manufacturing technologies have included attempts to make 3D printers capable of producing structural buildings


3D printing materials market in 2015 was dominated by Americas regions and it is likely to retain its market leadership in future.  The adoption of 3D printers to visualize and to create extremely customized products will accelerate the 3D printing market which will raise the demands of 3D printing materials. The massive application of 3D printers in medical sector for creating artificial organs such as kidney cells, cardiac tissue, human liver and other human tissues for transplanting is driving the demand of 3D printing materials. Furthermore, cancer cells and other disease cells are also printed to examine and research on the growing cause of these diseases to provide better drugs and therapy to the patients.

Key players in the 3D printing materials market include:
3D Systems, Inc. (U.S.),

Arcam (Sweden),

Stratasys Ltd. (U.S.),

Materialise NV (Belgium),

ExOne GmbH (Germany).


How 3D Printing Technology works:

A 3D digital model of the item is created, either by computer aided design (CAD) or using a 3D scanner. The printer then reads the design and lays down successive layers of printing medium (this can be a liquid, powder, or sheet material) which are joined or fused to create the item. The process can be slow, but it enables almost any shape to be created.

Depending on the technique adopted, printing can produce multiple components simultaneously, can use multiple materials and can use multiple colours.

Accuracy can be increased by a high-resolution subtractive process that removes material from an over-sized printed item. Some techniques include the use of dissolvable materials that support overhanging features during fabrication.

Materials such as metal can be expensive to print, and in this case it may be more cost-effective to print a mould, and then to use that to create the item.


Application in Construction Industry:

In the construction industry, 3D printing can be used to create small complex components or to ‘print’ entire buildings. Construction is well-suited to 3D printing as much of the information necessary to create an item will exist as a result of the design process, and the industry is already experienced in computer aided manufacturing. The recent emergence of building information modelling (BIM) in particular may facilitate greater use of 3D printing.

3D printing may allow faster and more accurate construction of complex items as well as lowering labour costs and producing less waste. It might also enable construction to be undertaken in harsh or dangerous environments not suitable for a human workforce.


Criticism of the Technology:

Clearly all of these projects have enormous potential. There are questions about how printing can be integrated with other building components, and how they will incorporate services and reinforcement, but in the long term, they should produce better, faster, lower-cost buildings.

In addition, all of these innovations require complex equipment, and whilst it is possible to envisage using some simplified version to manufacture specialist components on a more industrial scale, it is questionable whether this will replace bricks and mortar.


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