Walter Westphal
CEO
Grubsa
/
Expert Contributor

3D Printers for the Construction Industry 4.0

By Walter Westphal | Wed, 12/08/2021 - 09:13

3D printing building technology is a new construction technique started with the invention of 3D printers. 3D printing is a process by which physical objects are created by depositing materials in layers based on a digital model. All 3D printing processes require software, hardware, and materials working together. Over the years, 3D printing started to be present everywhere and printers became commonly used in many industrial applications. As the technology continues to grow, it can be used to create everything from prototypes and simple parts to highly technical final products.

In the last decade, engineering research teams have been experimenting with using 3D printing to build components for buildings and entire constructions. The printing for construction purposes 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 new possibilities for architects and engineers everywhere.

The construction industry is one of the most important industries worldwide. It contributes 9 percent of global GDP and about 8 percent of the total employment around the world. Even so, the industry is experiencing low productivity with minimum technological innovations.

One of the new developments in construction and architecture is 3D printing with concrete-like materials. This technique can create the opportunity for personalization of large-scale projects for the lower and middle class, since it removes the restrictions on shape that are present in the traditional way of building. The technology also has shown potential in a wide range of disciplines, but the building industry is still behind in the development of 3D printing.

The 3D printing technique for cementitious material is a promising method that may revolutionize the traditional building and construction processes in terms of apparent benefits in low-cost, highly efficient automatic construction, architectural design freedom, and reduction of labor requirements and risks during construction.

3D printed architectural components are totally unrestricted by typical design constraints. The ability to use curvilinear forms, rather than being cost and process limited to rectilinear forms, opens a whole new area of design.

It is a commonly understood truth that rectilinear forms are among the weakest structural forms imaginable. On the other hand, the humble 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 a simple consistent curve, makes it the strongest structural design possible. 3D printing offers the practical possibility of using these curves in common structures.

The evolution of 3D printers is moving really fast; a decade ago the technology was normally restricted to a single, soft, white plastic. Today, printers allow many different materials to be used at once, offering thousands of colors.

There are many possibilities about where the technology could be headed. Although 3D printing is still in its early days in all industries, the potential benefits are driving the technology forward. Some suggest 3D printers will be used mainly to print building components and panels, either in factories or on site, while others envision 3D printing as a transformative technology that could revolutionize the construction industry.

3D printing technology in the construction industry should increase sustainability. Construction elements can be built based on sustainable materials. Also, 3D printing may transform architecture. There are numerous advantages coming from developing 3D technology in construction. The most important are:

  • The cost of printing is much lower than traditional construction methods, including material transportation and storage.
  • Use of environmentally friendly construction processes and raw materials.
  • Reduced risk of injuries on site as the printers will be able to do most of the hazardous and dangerous work.
  • Wet construction processes are minimized, so that the building erection process generates less material waste and dust.
  • The time required to complete the building can be considerably reduced.

Construction is a labor-intensive industry that is characterized by low productivity and low technological usage. Along with other automation technologies, 3D printing has received increasing attention from the industry. With the possibility of large-scale adoption of 3D printers, the benefits are evident. Although the use of 3D printing in construction is still in the research and development stage, with a limited number of buildings built to date around the world, the trends show that more and more constructions are to be done with 3D printing in the coming years.

The construction industry faces severe problems resulting from low productivity and increasing shortages of skilled labor. The purpose of digitalization and automation of all relevant stages, from design and planning to the actual construction process appears to be one of the best options to effectively respond to these urgent challenges.

Photo by:   Walter Westphal

MORE BY THE AUTHOR