It’s hard to find a topic these days that lies outside of the conversation surrounding 3D printing. So it comes as no surprise that countries around the world are making efforts to understand the technology’s impact and to make sure that they stay ahead of the curve in terms of both adoption and innovation. The United Arab Emirates has already made quite a push for 3D printing, making a particularly big splash in the area of construction with its 3D printed office building in Dubai. They are not alone in their contributions to the development of 3D printed construction as China proved with the unveiling of an earthquake-resistant house, the Philippines with a 3D printed hotel and Russia with its recently introduced house 3D printed in 24 hours.
If Europe might seem behind in the 3D printed construction disruption, it’s not for lack of interest. Movers and shakers with ideas to peddle and perspectives to share about the prominent manufacturing technology gathered this past month to confer about the role that Europe will play in the 3D printing construction disruption. The event, organized by Larsen & Partners in conjunction with their sister company 3D Printhuset, played to a sellout crowd of more than 160 people from 7 countries in Europe.
The consensus at the event seemed to be that while Europe was not the leader in 3D printing construction as of today, and that media attention has to date been directed more toward companies like China’s (controversial) WinSun, that it would assume that role in the next three to five years. That’s a pretty ambitious claim. Especially given the focused resources being directed in places outside of Europe. But those making this assertion aren’t unaware of the hurdles that European 3D printed construction faces in its bid for a leadership position — or of the benefits of overcoming those hurdles.
“Already now 60% of all 3D construction printing projects are occurring in Europe and the concepts found here are far more disruptive and represents a larger potential for labor and materials savings than the concepts and projects of the Chinese,” said Larsen & Partners CEO Henrik Lund-Nielsen. “In Europe a.o. due to weather conditions integrated solutions for insulation and moisture management need to be included in 3D construction printing concepts. Such solutions are completely missing in the projects realized in Asia and this is where the potential for serious cost reductions really is.”
While Europe has not yet emerged as the undisputed world leader, they aren’t starting from a standstill, either. If you have been paying any attention at all to the 3D printing construction industry in Europe, you will have heard of Enrico Dini, one of its leading proponents. The disciple of 3D print construction has been traveling the continent wooing converts to his cause with occasional bursts of good fortune. It seems that nowhere were his words more wholly appreciated than by this audience and seemed more concretely within the near future being delivered on the heels of the recent completion and opening of a 3D printed bridge in Madrid.
What is important to note is that even the wildest eyed among those at the conference were not suggesting that in the next half a decade 3D printed houses will begin popping up in every neighborhood (aside from an entirely 3D printed village in Italy). Rather the idea is that the key to integrating 3D printing into the domestic construction industry and to reaping the benefits of the process, rather than just being able to use it for wow factor, lies in the development of 3D printed components for construction. A combination of lower labor costs and reduced fabrication periods will save time which, as we all know, is money.
“Within 3-5 years we expect that 3D construction printing regularly will be used for single building components, but longer term entire buildings will be the aim, when regulations are adapted to make that possible,” said Kaare Flindt Joergensen, Concept Development Manager at NCC Construction.
The conclusion is far from forgone, however, and continued focus on and support for development is necessary if Europe is to even stay afloat in the business, much less assume a leadership role. It remains to be seen what kind of commitment Europe’s governments can make to enhance integration and innovation as it will take a great deal more than hyperbole and passionate visionaries to take this from a dream to reality. Discuss in the European Construction forum at 3DPB.com.[Photos provided to 3DPrint.com by Larsen & Partners]