Can you imagine building your next house from the push of a button? Will, you feel safe driving over a bridge if it was built by a giant printer? In this age of digital technology disruption, we as a society might not have a choice but to get comfortable with 3D printed infrastructures.
Historically, the construction industry has been very conservative and relied on traditional techniques to solve the worlds growing problems of developing sustainable infrastructures. In recent years, the emergence of R&D organizations has started to shed a bit of light on how additive manufacturing – 3D printing could revolutionize the construction industry[i]. A strong sense of anticipation has been generated, however, overall 3D concrete printing is still in its early stage[ii].
3D printing – A fit for construction?
This technology provides a wide range of application across industries with some of its most significant benefits to the construction industry listed below:
- Implementation of Sophisticated designs:
The technology also almost enables limitless freedom of design – simplified production of complex shapes and sizes could generate increased satisfaction in the construction of beautiful architectural designs.
- Faster construction process:
Prototyping of 3D printing during construction has been proven to cut construction time drastically. For example, Researchers from the Additive Manufacturing (AM.NUS) at the National University of Singapore have developed a novel toilet unit design that can be 3D printed in under five hours, which currently takes a day to build manually[v].
- Reduced cost of the overall construction project:
The new toilet unit design by the AM.NUS Construction 3D Printing Programme has been recorded to deliver 25% cost savings compared to conventional construction method[vi].
- Deliver on sustainable construction goals:
First, 3D printing allows for the use of less material during construction – causing less harm to the environment. This technology could also enable the use of environmentally friendly materials to be printed further reducing the harmful effect of this industry.
Additive manufacturing offers better overall efficiency as compared to the traditional manufacturing processes. As a result, the technology is expected to expand exponentially in the coming years in the construction sector. This will be highly beneficial in emerging markets like African countries battling with the stress of providing adequate infrastructure for a growing population[vii].
How Eindhoven University of Technology (TU Eindhoven) is fostering the use of additive manufacturing to combat infrastructure issues across the Netherlands.
Though the 3D printing business is still a niche market, there has been a rise in the number of specialized organizations focus prototyping solutions for construction players[viii]. One prominent example of this organization is the Eindhoven University of Technology. Their strategy has been to develop the additive manufacturing techniques in response to the increasing labor cost across Europe and partner with construction giants to deliver large-scale proof of concept.
Building the world’s first 3D-printed bridge
TU Eindhoven recently collaborated with Royal BAM Group, a Dutch general contractor to complete the World’s first 3D printed bicycle bridge in Holland. The bridge is 8 meters long and 3.5 meters wide with 1 cm layers of concrete. Located in the small town of Gemert, just outside Eindhoven, the bridge was opened Oct 2017.
Building the world’s first neighborhood of habitable 3D printed houses
TU Eindhoven is on the path to create another historical moment – onsite printing the world’s first habitable 3D houses by the middle of 2019 in compliance with the Dutch building code. The University has partnered with another Dutch construction company Van Wijnen to deliver on this project. The company claims to already have 20 buyers lined up for the first set of houses[ix].
Potential next steps:
The university has been a leader in 3D printing using concrete. They should consider partnerships with other disruptive startups in this space to exponentially grow. An example of a possible partnership here will be with MX3D (a Dutch-based startup), an organization with a specialized focus on metal 3D printing. Recently, this startup has started printing metal bridges [x]. The two organization could potentially work together to develop a machine capable of printing steel reinforced building components.
As we look forward, several key issues need to be considered: how ready are we as consumers and regulators to embrace this change? How enthusiastic is the construction industry to make a switch from the dinosaur-aged construction techniques towards embracing this digital technology? And lastly who is responsible for developing the skills needed for this to thrive? The education system or the industry?
[i] Philipp Gerbert, S. C., Digital in Engineering and Construction: The Transformative Power of Building Information Modeling, BCG Focus, March 2016
[ii] 3D concrete printing market is expected to cross $70 million by 2022: Credence research. (2016, Jul 19). M2 Presswire Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1805250921?accountid=11311
[iv] The 3D printing in construction market is estimated to hit $314.95 million by 2023. (2018, May 14). M2 Presswire Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/2038182042?accountid=11311
[v] Singapore: NUS builds new 3D printing capabilities, paving the way for construction innovations – NUS construction 3D printing programme aims to transform construction with novel building designs and materials. (2018, Jul 06). Asia News Monitor Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/2064351155?accountid=11311
[vi] Singapore: NUS builds new 3D printing capabilities, paving the way for construction innovations – NUS construction 3D printing programme aims to transform construction with novel building designs and materials. (2018, Jul 06). Asia News Monitor Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/2064351155?accountid=11311
[vii] Jacques Bughin, M. C. (2016, September). mckinsey global insitute. Retrieved from mckinsey.com: https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Featured%20Insights/Middle%20East%20and%20Africa/Realizing%20the%20potential%20of%20Africas%20economies/MGI-Lions-on-the-Move-2-Executive-summary-September-2016v2.ashx
[viii] Romain de Laubier, M. W., Will 3D Printing Remodel the Construction Industry? BCG Focus, January 2016
[ix] Boffey, D. (2018, June 6). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jun/06/netherlands-to-build-worlds-first-habitable-3d-printed-houses
[x] France-Presse, A. (2017, October 17). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/18/world-first-3d-printed-bridge-cyclists-netherlands