5 Ways 3D Printing is Changing the Construction Industry

Bolt in a 3D printer
••• Bolt in a 3D printer. Gunay Mutlu/Getty Images

The 21st century has been the age of 3D—everyday consumers now even have 3D televisions in their homes now. And 3D printers are the next frontier for this technology; for example, 3D printing has come so far that companies like Makerbot are trying to make its special printers an everyday household item.

3D-printing technology has been dramatically improving in recent years and a wide array of markets and manufacturers are trying to take advantage. For example, 3D printers can now be used to print items ranging from a shoe to a car. In Japan, they are being used to help the visually impaired learn about the world, and researchers believe they will be able to print new organs for people in need of an organ transplant. With all of this potential, it is fitting for corporations and industries to take notice.

But what does this new technology mean for the construction industry? Despite the potential, many construction professionals are wary of the effect 3D printing could have on their business. Increased automation and mechanization have been detrimental to labor markets in the past.

Take farming in the United States for example: in 1900, the farming industry made up 38% of America’s workforce, but today it makes up less than one percent. Some are even claiming that 3D printing could pose a threat to the predictions indicating a boom in construction-related jobs.

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 his Ted Talk, he says, “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.” But what could 3D printing do to help solve these problems?

Five Advantages That 3D Printing Brings to Construction

  1. Reduced supply costs: China-based 3D printing construction company WinSun, “expects 3D printing will save construction companies up to 50% on the cost” of building a house. This could prove to be a lifesaver for construction managers with access to this technology.
  2. Global Development: 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.
  3. Greener Construction: 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.
  1. 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.
  2. Clarify Client Expectations: Now construction professionals and their customers will be able to communicate clearly and efficiently. Even if the customer has no architectural background, he will be better able to express his needs and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

    Although 3D printing is not going to solve the construction industry’s skilled worker shortage, recruit up and coming talent, or remove human error in planning construction projects. It seems clear that 3D printing presents promising opportunities for the construction industry to become both greener and more cost-effective. As 3D printing research continues to ramp up, it will be exciting to see what comes next for 3D printing in construction.