The construction industry is subject to continuous evolution that leverages the intervention of new technologies aimed to simplify, quicken and expand the scope of construction in general. 3D printing in construction is one such technology that is expected to revolutionise the practices in construction to build structures efficiently. With pre-conceived models and accurate end results, 3D printing is believed to change the future of the cities we live in today.
Introduction: The Background of 3D Printing in Construction
Ever since the 1980s, the construction industry has been experimenting with techniques focused on the computerised manufacturing of building materials. By the 2000s, the attempts by various experts in the construction industry enabled the possibility of printing building components, layer-by-layer to form 3-dimensional forms that constitute a built structure. This method known as 3D printing was carried out with the help of 3D printers that use additive technology to lay down layers of printing medium such as powder, liquid or metallic mediums.
The process is similar to that of Stereolithography (SLA) which converts liquid resin to a solid using a high-powered laser system. The additive technology used in this conversion forms the base of 3D printing.
Some of the other additive technologies employing a similar process flow include:
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) where high-powered lasers are used to fuse the particles of powdered materials
- Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) where the filaments of the material are melted and extruded using a printer nozzle
In the current-day scenario, the 3D printing technologies have been facilitating greater accuracy and speed, making way for complex structures and futuristic designs. From fabricating components as small as walls to building structures as large as a house, 3D printing has given a picture of better construction in the near future.
3D Printable Materials for Structures
Much like regular manufacturing, the computer-aided manufacturing systems used in 3D printing make use of building materials feasible for the process. The 3D printing materials are often selected to give high performance at minimal cost spends. Other parameters in selecting 3d printing materials include:
- Tensile strength
- Heat deflection temperature and more.
Based on the above factors, the top experts in the construction industry recommend the below 3D printing materials for common use:
- Basic concrete mix with special additives like recyclable materials or geopolymers for printing complete structures
- Powders like Alumide for printing prototypes
- Powdered metals like Steel or Copper for printing building components
- Liquid resins for printing interior components
Some unconventional choices in 3D printing materials include:
- Graphene for printing solar panels or exterior components
- Carbon fibre, Fibreglass or other composites for reinforcing concrete structures
- A concrete-like composition of Soil + Straw +Lime for printing sustainable structures
In modern-day construction, newer compositions of concrete are experimented, making concrete the best material for 3d print. With more material innovations taking place at the present, 3D printing materials is set to create new standards in the construction industry with their pioneering performance and efficient functions.
3D Printing and Smart Cities
The focus on the future of 3D printing prompts the people in construction to test its scope on building smart cities with effective planning, high-performing building components and an overall sustainable character. The utopia or the city of the future is envisioned with technologies as smart as 3D printing to look beyond alleviating the construction challenges of today and foresee the potential of tomorrow with affordable solutions via mass production, smart infrastructure via simplified models of complex manufacturing systems and quick on-site execution via pre-fabrication or fast-paced industrial equipment.
In the planning of the smart cities of tomorrow, 3D printing technologies are employed to:
- Effectively visualise urban plans with prototypes and to-scale models
- Reduce waste resulting from large-scale construction with calculated manufacturing
- Shorten the time taken for building the city's infrastructure, thereby making it fit for current demand, among others.
3D Construction Process
The process involved in 3D printing in construction has come a long way from high operational costs to affordable systems. Amidst the economic challenge, the technology has a great scope in mass-producing building units that contribute to the city plan when planned efficiently using low-cost materials and zero-waste processes. From independent houses to community shelters and neighborhoods, 3D printing has taken a smart turn to change the landscape of planned cities with a futuristic edge.
How to 3D print a house?
3D printed houses are the first and foremost structures 3D printed in one piece. From 2010 onwards, these houses have been normalised across the globe—China, the USA, Mexico and many other countries have started building 3D printed houses for the betterment of their cities.
The effective process of printing a house like that involves the below steps:
- The layout and plan of the house are conceived using CAD software in 2-dimension.
- A 3-dimensional design model is made using BIM software with accurate structural specifications and the material requirements are calculated using in-built parameters.
- The suitable raw materials are selected and the process of contour crafting is carried forward by a robotic extruder arm that builds the 3D forms with successive layers.
- Different building components such as walls, doors etc. are manufactured with the technique and fabricated into one whole house.
This systematic process makes 3D printing houses easier, quicker and more economical on a larger perspective. With such a significant effect on the housing sector, 3D printing shall stand a potential to break the social hierarchy and make the basic shelter attainable for all.
The Future of 3D Printed Structures
Recently, the 3D printing technology has taken a major surge in the field of construction, given the high demand for new structures and their higher time constraints. This has essentially called for technological interventions such as robotic systems for smarter 3D printing processes that are capable of shortening the construction span whilst creating complex structural systems and components that are tedious to execute with manual construction.
While 3D printing eliminates the strain of labour procurement and management, it poses a risk to the livelihood of the people in construction, especially in the non-metropolitan zones of the country where a part of the community relies on construction for occupational needs. A 360-degree approach in establishing such new techniques can manage such changes in the workforce and create new opportunities across all areas of focus in construction.
Undoubtedly, 3D printing is the future of construction. Its range of benefits shall grow across:
- Creativity in concept
- Flexibility in design
- Better strength in structure
- Low material wastage in manufacturing
- Lesser carbon footprint, and beyond.
The technology is also equipped with economic benefits such as opportunities to mass-produce structures that become befitting solutions for most of the modern-day demands such as low-cost shelters, complex infrastructure projects and more. This scope of simplifying construction and all of its needs makes 3D printing in construction—a valuable tool for experts in the construction field.
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