Construction and 3D Printing

The technology of 3D printing is not as new as it might sound, it has actually been around for a number of years, but it has only recently gained attention in the construction industry. 3D printing has been seen to produce some fantastic results, but the technology is not yet ready for mainstream construction, as it cannot handle mass production yet.

As one of the leading BIM companies in the UK, we know that the reasons why 3D Printing has captured the attention of the construction industry is that it can be used to create complex structures of unique form. 3D printers and 3D model printing services are already widely used by the general public, and the use of 3D printing for construction works in a similar way although the printer is on a much larger scale and a material mix is used instead of ink.

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The advantages of using 3D printing in construction are that structures can be customised easily, projects will generate less waste, fewer materials will be needed for projects and there will be less transportation of materials to site needed. The construction industry, in general, is currently undergoing a massive digital change with the introduction of BIM, as well as more of a focus on environmentally friendly construction, and in theory the use of 3D printing could complement these focuses.

There have been a number of developments in 3D printing for the construction industry, with the School of Civil and Building Engineering at Loughborough University developing the technology for the past ten years. The team here have managed to develop computer controlled 3D printers that deposit successive layers of high-performance concrete to form complex structural components that cannot be manufactured any other way. This breakthrough means that construction workers can now include complex building infrastructures from the outset of the project rather than resorting to costly and time-consuming retrofits. The Loughborough University team are currently working on developing the world’s first commercial concrete printing robot, which will revolutionise the construction industry when complete.

The mass growth in the global population that has been seen recently has meant an increase in need for housing, and it is believed that 3D printing could help us mass produce affordable homes at a low cost. History has shown how difficult it can be to build complex structures in the past, and how much skill and labour is involved. With many building professionals considering off-site construction and building assembly modelling (BIM) as future alternatives, does 3D printing really have a place in the future of construction?

We think it is safe to say that it is early days for 3D printing, yet its advantages and the requirements for using the technology are clear to see. 3D printing is interesting and advantageous, yes, but it is definitely not ready for mainstream use as of yet. Interest in this technology will grow as seen in the popularity of recent projects, and so all we can do is watch this space!

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