Five Ways 3D Printing is Changing the Global Construction Industry

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

The 21st century emerged as the 3D age, and it's no wonder that the once considered novel technology has found its way into the corporate realm. 3D printers have been around since the 1980's, but only recently has the global production world taken notice. The applications for use in construction seem self-explanatory, since printing something from basic materials is what the construction business does on a daily basis.

Five Ways That 3D Printing Benefits Construction Companies

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. From aerospace companies like Boeing, to names like Ford and General Electric, businesses around the world are finding new ways to utilize advancements in 3D technology.

  1. 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 see increased competition within the construction field. This means a lower price for the consumer, which could mean a shift from a rental mindset to that of a purchasing one.
  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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  1. 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. Much of a clients expectations come from an idea, and 3D printing makes it simple to materialize that idea beyond the dated method of pencil and paper.

3D-printing technology saw an upsurge in popularity in the mid-2010s. Consequently, a wide array of markets and manufacturers poised themselves to take advantage of technological developments. In Japan, they are being used to help the visually impaired learn about the world, and researchers believe that in time, they will be able to print new organs for people in need of a transplant.

Despite incredible potential, many construction professionals remain wary of the effect 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 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 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. 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.