Will 3D Printing Revolutionize the Construction Industry?
Recently, several companies have announced plans to build homes using 3D printers. Some of them propose merely to replace parts in their supply line with items they’ll purchase from 3D printing companies.
Regardless of their strategy, construction companies are embracing 3D printing in their processes as much as many other industries. Though not without its pitfalls, as a manufacturing process 3D printing is poised to revolutionize the construction industry, with a potential impact upon everything from building structural integrity to housing prices.
What is 3D printing?
In a nutshell, 3D printing involves the process of constructing objects layer by layer through the use of digital models. This process, also referred to as additive printing, has existed for about 30 years.
The first printer recognized for using this process was unveiled in 1984 by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp. With advances in both information and manufacturing technology, however, 3D printing has only really taken off in the last three or four years.
One of the biggest factors in the rise of 3D printing has been cost. Prohibitive until very recently, the prices on lower-end models have started to dip below $1,000, which makes them affordable even for the average hobbyist.
This price reduction has led to an expansion in skilled printer builders and modelers within the so-called “maker” community. As a wave of people who used the process to print construction materials began to take off, it became inevitable that some of them would start to think about the possibility of printing entire buildings.
The rise of 3D printing in construction
A company called Countor Crafting was the first to seize upon the idea of using 3D printers for constructing buildings. Recently, the firm developed a process to craft a 2,500-square-foot house in a matter of 20 hours. The company promotes it as not only faster, but also more eco-friendly and financially efficient than other construction methods.
Although many regarded the process as little more than science fiction, other companies are also considering using 3D printers in their building efforts today. Diversity is an advantage of this building style; instead of workers building the same basic structure over and over to avoid errors, all the changes can be imposed on the digital model, which saves the company thousands in design costs.
The impact of 3D printing on the construction and housing markets
Despite the many ways this innovation could reduce costs for both homeowners and businesses, there are a few possible pitfalls. First, 3D printing has the potential to put a lot of construction workers out of business. Jobs that once required skilled drywall installation or other highly technical abilities, for example, are essentially replaced by a printer.
There’s also the matter of the building materials themselves. Many formerly common materials, such as asbestos, were later found to pose serious safety hazards. As people search for the optimum building materials to use in 3D printing, builders should be careful to pay attention to public health and environmental science research concerning those materials.
In spite of these concerns, 3D printing use in construction shows no signs of slowing down. Someday, you too may live in a home “printed” onto its foundation.