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3D Printing in Construction: Benefits and Uses

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What if instead of months to complete a new construction project it could be done in weeks? 3D printing can offer that kind of savings. In addition to time savings, it also reduces material costs, improves site safety, and allows designers to think more creatively. 

This construction technology, which has been around for decades, is only now getting the respect it deserves in the industry. With a labor shortage crisis, contractors are looking for ways to reduce the need for skilled workers, and 3D printing fits that bill.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing is a manufacturing process that uses a “printer” to extrude materials in a layered fashion to construct whole buildings or components. The 3D printer layers materials such as concrete, polymers, or metal in an additive fashion until the component or building is complete. The printer is usually composed of a robotic arm that moves along a track and deposits material along that track. It uses electronic drafting files to control where the materials are placed.

If you’re having trouble visualizing this, think of the 3D printer like an inkjet printer. It takes messages from your computer and places ink on the paper according to the instructions it receives. A 3D printer works similarly, but in three dimensions.

3D printing isn’t new, it’s actually been going on since the 70s. As technology has grown, it has become more feasible for companies to purchase the equipment and complete entire projects with the technology. 

Advantages of 3D printing in construction

3D printing offers several advantages over conventional construction techniques.

Reduces project timelines

This printing technology can construct a shell of a house in two to three days, instead of weeks for traditional construction. This speed saves on costs and allows occupants to move in sooner.

Uses less materials

Construction is a wasteful process, with as much as 30% of the materials delivered to a site ending up in the landfill. With 3D printing, there are no wasted materials since the programming tells the printer exactly how much material to place and where.

Reduced need for labor

The printing process only requires one or two people on site to monitor the printer and make sure the material is being delivered consistently. Regular construction crews usually require four people or more.

Improves site safety

With fewer workers on the site there is less chance for injuries. In addition, the printer does the heavy lifting, placing the material exactly where it needs to go without human intervention.

Reduced costs

While the printer itself can be spendy, the overall cost of a project is reduced when using 3D printing. Less labor and materials are required, and construction is completed sooner, reducing the cost of supervision and general conditions.

Reduces errors

The material is placed by a computer that isn’t subject to normal human errors. As long as the programming is correct, the materials will be placed exactly as specified. This reduces the chance of expensive rework.

Allows for more creative designs

Computers are able to handle more creative designs, like curves and angles, without difficulty. This gives designers more freedom to incorporate these elements into their designs.

3D printing applications

One of the most encouraging applications of 3D printing is in affordable housing. 3D printing houses saves time and money, making investing in these projects more attractive to developers. Some companies are using robotics and other technology, combined with modular construction practices, to modernize the construction of housing developments. With the savings created by the use of these technologies, these projects become more profitable and will attract more development firms.

3D printing can also be used to address post-disaster development needs. Because of the speed of the process and the durability of the materials used, this type of construction is perfect for rebuilding in storm ravaged areas. 

Developers continue to advance the technology to expand its use on a variety of project types. With each advancement the projects get more sophisticated, and the process becomes more efficient. With substantial savings in wasted materials and unnecessary labor costs, contractors adopting this technology are able to do more with fewer costs.

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