Construction 3D printing entails all the technologies that rely on the 3D printing method to fabricate parts of buildings or the entire building. There are various techniques of 3D printing used in construction. The commonly used ones include Powder Bonding and Extrusion. While Power Bonding involves polymer bond, reactive bond, and sintering, Extrusion involves cement or concrete, wax, foam, and polymers.
The increasing acceptance of 3D printing in construction is due to its series of advantages. For instance, it is faster, minimizes labor costs, handles complexity better, ensures accuracy, and facilitates a greater function integration. Finally, it reduces the production of construction wastes.
More companies are adopting construction 3D printing, including popular names in academia and the construction industry. There have been many vital milestones in 3D printing with regards to construction. For instance, we have witnessed the first living 3D printed building in CIS and Europe and the first 3D printed building in Europe by COBOD International. Likewise, we have seen the first-ever 3D printed commercial building, the first 3D printed bridge, and the first 3D printed part in a public building.
3D Printing in Construction – Timeline
Charles “Chuck” Hull made the first contribution to 3D printing in construction. In 1984, Charles invented stereolithography (SLA), a 3D printing technique that allows designers to create a 3D model, which is subsequently printed layer by layer. The result is a solid, physical object.
In the same vein, Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis designed the Contour Crafting System in 2006. While working at the University of Southern California then, Dr. Behrokh created this large 3D printer that can print buildings in place. The only difference between the machine and the regular desktop 3D printer is the use of a crane to do the printing and the use of concrete as the medium to lay the structural elements of the building in place.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also developed a 3D printing system that relies on a large, flexible, and highly controllable robotic arm to spread concrete through a regular construction nozzle.
Notable Milestones in 3D Printing in Construction:
The First-Ever 3D-Printed Commercial Building
The first-ever 3D-printed commercial building in the world is in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. The building is 2,600 sq ft, and it houses the office of the Dubai Future Academy. Based on the Guinness World Records documentation, “one 3D printer took 17 days to print the basic building design.” The entire construction was achieved with 50% less than the workforce required for the conventional building methods.
The first-ever 3D-printed home
There seem to be multiple claimants for the first-ever 3D printed house. However, the first family in the world to move into a 3D-printed house did it in 2018, in Nantes, France. The home was a four-bedroom building, measuring 1,022 sq ft. It took only 54 hours to print the entire building, while the contractors spent the next four months adding doors, roofs, and windows. The cost was also reduced by almost 80%. The medium used was cement and insulator polyurethane.
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The first-ever 3D-printed apartment building
Suzhou, China, is home to the first-ever 3D-printed apartment building. It was built in 2016 using a machine with a height of 20 feet, a width of 33 feet, and a length of 132 feet. It started as a basic CAD drawing fed into the 3D printer and ultimately fabricated. The piece-by-piece structural fabrication was done with a specially formulated and patented ‘ink.’ The ‘ink’ formula consists of construction waste like sand, fiberglass, and concrete, alongside a special hardening agent. These general construction materials were said to be recycled. So, the mixture is self-insulating and earthquake-proof.
The first-ever 3D-printed housing development
The first-ever 3D-printed neighbourhood was built in Tabasco, Southern Mexico. In 2018, New Story, a US-based nonprofit, collaborated with ICON, a tech company, to undertake the project. According to the sponsors, the goal was to combat global homelessness.
There is more to learn about 3D printing, especially in the construction industry. You can find an updated and comprehensive visual guide to construction 3D printing online. Also, there are several other resources online you can check out to know more about this relatively new and innovative printing and how it is applied.