The 21st century is emerging as the 3D age, and it's no wonder that the once novel technology has found its way into the corporate realm. 3D printers have been around since the 1980s, but only recently has the global production world taken notice. The applications for use in construction seem self-explanatory, since building something from basic materials is what the construction business does.
Despite the obvious benefits of printing materials in-house, 3D printing machines provide a wealth of applications beyond reducing the length of a supply chain. Multinationals are implementing the technology at a fervent pace, seeing the benefits that 3D printing can have on their bottom-line.
Reduced Supply Costs
China-based 3D printing construction company WinSun “expects 3D printing will save construction companies up to 50 percent on the cost” of building a house. This could prove to be a lifesaver for construction managers with access to this technology and could lead to increased competition within the construction field. Competition means lower prices for consumers, which could mean a shift from a rental to an ownership mindset.
Often as automation and mechanization rise, prices drop. 3D printing is an affordable way to create housing for the impoverished in need of adequate shelter.
Wealth Daily suggests that with the advent of 3D printing, “The use of lumber in the home’s framework would be spared.” This is a great advancement for green construction firms and a frightening development for the lumber industry.
Improved Project Planning
An important part of every project plan is the design. With 3D printing, companies will be able to quickly and inexpensively create models to have a visual representation of the project as well as help pinpoint problem areas and avoid delays.
Streamlined Client Expectations
With 3D printing, construction professionals and their customers can communicate more clearly and efficiently. Even a customer with no architectural background can better express their needs and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Much of a client's expectations come from an idea, and 3D printing makes it simple to materialize that idea beyond the dated method of pencil and paper.
Despite the incredible potential, many construction professionals remain wary of the affect 3D printing could have on their business. Increased automation and mechanization have been detrimental to fidgety labor markets in the past. Take farming in the United States, for example: in 1900, the farming industry made up 38 percent of America’s workforce but, in 2017, comprised less than 1 percent. Some are even claiming that 3D printing could pose a threat to predictions of a boom in construction-related jobs.
What's Next for 3D Printing
Among those calling for construction professionals to take advantage of the potential of 3D printing is University of Southern California professor Behrokh Khoshnevis, creator of Contour Crafting. In a Ted Talk he gave in 2012, he said, “If you look around yourself, pretty much everything is made automatically today—your shoes, your clothes, home appliances, your car….The only thing that is still built by hand are these buildings.” And later: “Construction, as we know it today, is wasteful, costly, and often over budget.”
3D printing will most likely not solve the construction industry’s skilled worker shortage, recruit up-and-coming talent, or remove human error in planning construction projects. But it seems clear that 3D printing presents promising opportunities for the construction industry to become both greener and more cost-effective, often by considerable margins. As 3D printing research continues to develop, it will be exciting to see the benefits the technology will have on the many facets of the construction industry.