WPL Publishing Co. first covered 3D printing in 2008 about a service that transformed satellite images into physical models printed on a Z Corporation 3D printer. In January 2010, John Jurewicz reviewed five then-available printers creating scale models of buildings in plaster or plastic. “The reasons for using these devices center around verification of design and are moving into construction coordination as they become more affordable,” says Jurewicz. “They evaluate constructability options, eliminate costly mistakes, trigger unexpected ideas, drive quality, and improve collaboration among engineering and the construction team,” he added.
For construction, 3D printers hold much more promise than printing scale models. Over the past few years, 3D printers have made significant advances, being able to create objects in a range of specialty materials, including metal. Here at ConstructionPro Network, we expect one day to see personal or small professional model printers installed on jobsites to produce spare parts, specialty architectural shapes and custom hand tools on demand. What should make this easier is the advance in small, inexpensive scanners that can scan an object and produce the design file to reproduce similar or modified versions of that object on a 3D printer.
This past October, ConstructionPro Network described a system created at the University of Southern California that can print entire structures, with some height restrictions, of course. Essentially, this system, called Contour Crafting, uses a boom mounted device to slip-form concrete structural walls. A similar development is occurring in the Netherlands by CyBe Additive Industries, creating both structural components as well as free-form architectural shapes. (See articles at 3ders.org and 3dprint.com.)
Other firms recently have been developing large scale 3D printers that will prefabricate structural components for assembly on-site. One firm in China, WinSun, has created pilot projects including a five-story building and a two-story mansion, made from specially formulated recycled construction materials. The firm recently held a news conference to announce an order for 20,000 small housing units. (See The Washington Post coverage here.)
Over the past 50 years, industry professionals and researchers alike have been lamenting the failure of the construction industry to achieve measurable productivity increases, as measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Department of Commerce. Building information modeling (BIM) and lean construction have offered a glimmer of hope, but have not yet solved the problem. (Click here for an excellent essay on the topic by Stanford Professor Paul Teicholz). With advancements in technology, including 3D printing, robotics, and drones, we foresee that within the next 25 years, we will finally realize developments that can start making a difference. Tell us what you think about 3D printing’s role in improving the construction process and productivity.