3D Printing in Construction – Hype or Game Changer?

2020 saw the 3D printing industry rise to the challenge of producing PPE and spare parts for breathing apparatus due to the pandemic.

Early adopters of 3D Printing technology have been the medical, aerospace and automotive industries. But what of construction?

What is the future of 3D in construction?  Should we all be keeping a closer watch on this technology?

According to a recent industry study by Transparency Market Research, 3D printing in the construction market is estimated to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 33%.

Could this technology yield future profits for all of us in the construction chain?

3D printing has several potential advantages as a construction method. There is no doubt that of the total weight of building materials delivered to a building site, a considerable percentage is wasted.

Indeed, DEFRA reports in their February 2018 edition of UK Statistics on Waste that in 2014 the UK generated 202.8 million tonnes of waste. Construction, demolition and excavation (CDE) was responsible for 59% of that number.

3D Printing

In 3D printing, materials can be printed on-site or off-site with little wastage. This will become increasingly important for sustainability and the push for climate change.

It also saves on costs for certain building types. Architects can be more creative in designing with more unusual shapes. Time is saved on-site with fewer labour costs and logistics. Structures can be printed on-site or prefabricated.

There is also a need for more housing and cheaper housing in the UK. It is worth noting that there are many examples of 3D printed structures throughout the world, these include houses, apartment blocks, offices and larger-scale buildings.

There is now no doubt that constructing from 3D possible.

The question is … Will it become commercially viable in the foreseeable future?

The disadvantages of 3D printing.

Well, the construction industry tends to be traditional in its approach.  Building using traditional materials and methods is embedded in the UK construction industry and will be difficult to change,

How will the insurance and mortgage industry view such buildings?

There are also considerable capital costs to purchasing 3D machinery. Perhaps the biggest obstacles are people’s perceptions and a demand for ‘proof of concept?’

There is no doubt that 3D lends itself to collaborative partnerships. Architects and designers can work together using software in one country, while the building can be printed and constructed in another!
In the UK, we tend to have healthy scepticism on new technology but who would think a year ago many of us would be working from home and conducting meetings on Zoom?

Stranger things have happened!

As sustainability consultants, we are watching developments in this field with interest and are actively engaging with the 3D printing industry. Watch this space!