What You Need to Know about 3D Printing

The construction industry hasn’t seen much change in the last 100 years. There are new things happening in mega-construction projects, but day-to-day construction has stayed the same. Other than a few innovative materials and techniques, and a greater reliance on power tools and technologies, construction is the same today as it was in the past. Enter 3D printing.

The Basics of 3D Printing

3D printing is set to change the way structures are built. In the last decade, engineering research teams have been experimenting with using 3D printing to build components of buildings. The printing is done with “super-size printers,” which use a special concrete and composite mixture. This mixture is much thicker than regular concrete, allowing it to be self-supporting as it sets.

This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for construction professionals everywhere. Much like freeform design, 3D printed architectural components are totally free from typical design constraints. The ability to use curvilinear forms, rather than being limited to rectilinear forms, opens a whole new realm of design.

Rectangular forms are one of the weakest structural forms imaginable. On the other end of the spectrum, the egg, which is totally curvilinear, is one of the most efficient structures in nature. A minimum of material, crafted into a shape where there are no straight edges, providing simple consistent curve, makes it the strongest structural design possible. 3D printing offers the practical possibility of using these curves in common structures.

Structural components that are made via 3D printing use less material than the same components made using normal concrete forming techniques. Whereas curved concrete structures that are poured into forms are solid, those made via concrete crafting can be hollow, allowing space for essential building services right inside the structural elements of the building.

What’s Next?

While 3D printing of whole buildings is not ready to go commercial yet, the technology has been developed to the point where full-sized testing can be accomplished. Some contractors are even trialing the use of 3D printing of building components already. Still, in order for the technology to advance further for this specific industry, capital investments are needed to build the necessary equipment.

There is another great advantage, which may have an even greater social impact. The lower materials and labor usage makes this a much less expensive method of construction.

Regardless of what direction 3D printing takes in construction, it is clear that it will change construction. Whether this is in creating new aesthetic structures or providing low-cost housing, the buildings of the future are likely to look much different than those of today.

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