Recently, 3D printers have been highlighted in the news, as the progress made these past years have been ground breaking. In fact, 3D printers celebrate their 30th anniversary this year. The first 3D printer ever made was developed by Chuck Hull in 1984.
Actually the first steps made in developing 3D printing happened in the very early 1980’s. Since the beginning of the 21st century significant improvements have been made, which caused a tremendous growth in sales and a drop of prices.
What is it?
3D printing or “additive manufacturing” is an automated computer controlled process for making a three-dimensional object from a 3D digital shape. It is able to reproduce any kind of solids and is capable of using many different materials.
3D printing has lots of potential applications, and is already used in a variety of functions across different industries. The health industry uses it to reproduce organs from patient’s own cells, the automotive industry to make some pieces of a car and even the aerospace industry uses to make little metal pieces that require high precision. Also an entire gun has been 3D-printed, healthcare is able to print prosthetics and science researchers such as geologists can even reproduce fossils.
3D printing is applicable to a large number of other areas thanks to its great advantages, increasing innovation, speed to market or reducing development costs. It is a very adaptable and capable technology that is going to become more important in the future.
How is it related to the building industry?
Building printing is just at its start at the moment, but it exists! The first fully 3D-printed building was shaped in 2013 in the UK and another one in the Netherlands. Today, we are able to build a house, or at least a concrete house frame in less than 24h.
The machine has a construction plan. Then it stacks lines of concrete with stunning precision. Every single tier is perfectly aligned to the previous one. It even makes a double thickness wall and full the middle with a curve line of concrete that zigzag between the two sides.
Engineers are looking forward to using many different materials in the future, in order to be able to build any kind of construction. But it is still very expensive and complicated for some materials such as metal.
A 3D building printer is a huge machine. Therefore the application of this technology is limited because a big space is needed for the machine to operate on a field. At the moment, construction in city centers seems to be complicated due to the lack of space. Finally finishing is still made by humans and 3D-printed buildings are prototypes but technology runs really fast.
Will we see it in the near future?
Yes we will. Probabilities are high that the technology will be improved in order to have general application. For the moment it is still a very expensive technology which is not widely used yet. But for several years, prices have collapsed and we will surely see, in a mid term future, more and more 3D buildings. Because it is so fast, it can really reduce the price of a house frame due to scale of economies.
Also we can imagine that 3D printers could only print wall sections really fast, so it would as well reduce the price of the building and therefore this technology could be spread in the next couple of years. At the moment, investment is still very expensive.
To imagine how fast it can go, imagine what technology was 10 years ago and what it is today…
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