According to Business Insider the use of 3D printing in construction will drastically expand in 2023. But is 3D printing really the future of architecture and construction? Or is it just a fad? 

When you think of 3D printing you likely think of hobbyists printing out small, plastic objects. But, 3D printing can actually do much more than that. 3D printing is used for a huge variety of products and mechanisms. For example, furniture, movie props, prosthetic limbs, medical products, and even Automotive and aerospace parts. Now, with the advent of printable construction materials, small homes are already being built. However, many think that 3D printing is poised to take over the construction sector on a much larger scale than just small houses. Some even claim that “we could see 3D printers at every construction site by 2025.” 

In this article, we’re going to look at how 3D printing in construction works, and if the benefits of this relatively new construction tech outweigh its challenges.

How 3D Printing Works

3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, is a set of technologies that create 3D objects by adding material to make a whole. Essentially, 3D printers take a design from a digital file and “print” it out in sequential layers. This can come in as simple a form as creating a chess piece, to as complex as rocket engine parts.

In construction, 3D printing works in pretty much the same way but on a larger scale. Some materials currently being used for 3D printing in construction are concrete, cement, mortar, plastic, mud, rice waste, sand, and even metal and stone.

History of 3D Printing

3D printing first entered public consciousness around 2010 when companies began marketing at-home 3D printers for casual use. In reality, 3D printing has been around for decades in some form or another.

1940s

In as early as the 1940s, people were dreaming up the idea of 3D printers. In 1945, author Murray Leinster (AKA William Fitzgerald Jenkins) wrote a short story called “Things Pass By.” In the story, Leinster described a device that sounds a lot like a 3D printer:

“It makes drawings in the air…. But plastic comes out of the end of the drawing arm and hardens as it comes. This thing will start at one end of a ship or a house and build it complete to the other end, following drawings only.”  (Leinster, Things Pass By.)

1980s

However, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that 3D printers became a reality. In 1980 Charles Hull created the first ever 3D printer. His design used the method of “stereolithography”, which essentially is where an object is printed in layers. The design sent data from a digital file to a 3D printer to build up a resin object one layer at a time. 

1990s

In the 1990’s 3D printing technology began to mature. Bioengineers began to use 3D printing technology to create artificial tissue, organs and prosthetic limbs. CAD software was also developed that would allow people to create 3D models on a computer.

2010s

In the 2010’s products like the MakerBot made their debut. These small 3D printers allowed average people to 3D print their own designs at home. 

Now

Today, 3D printing has greatly improved and proven itself to be extremely useful in many industries. From the medical industry to building cars and plane parts and even printing out food, 3D printing seems to have boundless potential. One of those areas of potential is, of course, in architecture and construction.

3D Printing in Architecture and Construction 

In some estimates, the market for 3D printing in Architecture and Construction is set to reach 47.95 million (up from 10.94 million in 2021) by 2030. This means its CAGR growth rate would be 101%. 

There are many factors that are driving this potential demand. Some include the increased need for housing due to surging urban populations, and a growing desire for more sustainable and cost effective technology. 

If 3D printing in construction is to take off like many think, it’ll be because of its many benefits.

Benefits to 3D Printing

Sustainable

3D printing is potentially more sustainable than traditional construction materials. 3D printing allows for more precise measurements which saves materials and resources. In fact, by one estimation, 3D printing generates 60% less waste than the average construction site. In some cases, 3D printing can even use sustainable materials, like recycled plastic. 

Cost effective

Because you are using a predetermined and precise amount of materials with minimal waste, 3D printing can save a lot of money on materials. Additionally, 3D printing requires a smaller crew to build each project, saving companies money on labor. 

Faster

3D printing is much faster than traditional construction. While a normal building can take months to complete, small 3D printed buildings can be completed in mere hours to a few days. 

Safer

It is estimated that 1 in 10 construction workers are injured each year. Because 3D printing allows construction crews to be less involved with the more hazardous parts of building– such as working at tall heights and lifting heavy materials—it can prove to be much safer. 

Flexibility

For architects and contractors, 3D printing can be hugely beneficial for flexibility in their designs. 3D printing allows you to customize and make changes up until the point of printing. This gives architects the freedom to make changes without delaying construction. 

Like any great invention, there are challenges to 3D printing in construction as well. 

Challenges to 3D Printing

Expensive

Although companies may save money on labor, the cost of the printer itself is still very expensive. Since the printers are large, there are also issues in the cost to transport them as well as the cost of maintenance to maintain them.

Niche skill

In construction, 3D printing is still a relatively new technology. This means that many workers will not be skilled enough with complex 3D printing construction projects. This could lead to difficulty hiring qualified workers.

Weather

All construction projects have to deal with Mother Nature. However, the nature of 3D printing means that it may be even more vulnerable to the elements. This could cause delays in the project. 

Eyes to the Future 

Overall, the future looks bright for 3D printing in Architecture and Construction. 3D houses and even entire neighborhoods are already being built around the world. If the industry can overcome some of the challenges that 3D printing on construction sites presents, it could expand even more. In the future we may see not only private homes, but housing complexes, bridges, and other large buildings made primarily using 3D printing. 

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please use the comment section on the bottom of this page, and don’t forget to subscribe to our blog to get interesting content directly in your inbox!