Taking a look back at the previous year in the 3D printing world as 2018 rapidly approaches, one of several major themes that emerged was innovation in construction 3D printing. Applications for the technology in the construction industry were on the rise this year, as multiple countries and companies determined the reality of construction-focused additive manufacturing. Within this theme, we discovered a few smaller themes as well, as we look back at a year of construction 3D printing in 2017.
While London-based Bottletop was declared last month to be the world’s first store with a 3D printed interior, constructed out of sustainable materials and a 3D printed lattice structure by KUKA robots, and the IAAC used soil to demonstrate its 3D printing construction technology, we’ve heard a lot more 3D printing news in the construction industry about structural materials like concrete, cement, and steel. Concrete is one of the biggest materials currently being developed in the 3D printing world, because it’s able to be fabricated into nearly any shape – even army barracks and public bathrooms – creates zero waste, and is able to be locally sourced in areas where building materials are scarce.
The Technical University of Munich (TUM) has been studying the advantages of 3D printed concrete, and using it to create thin, extremely lightweight but strong pipes, not dissimilar to the delicate bones of a bird. The pipes are supported inside by an intricate bracing structure 3D printed with a selective binding method – the structure would have been impossible to create through conventional methods of manufacturing.
Vancouver-based LifeTec Construction Group is working on some private projects with its disruptive technology, which is able to 3D print studs out of structural steel for home construction. The company uses the advanced end-to-end design and build Framecad system to rapidly construct quality buildings without the use of lasers to shape the material, and steel is an ideal construction material, because it’s environmentally friendly, more resistant to mold and warping, and durable.
2017 has been an extremely busy year in terms of innovation in robotic construction. Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, the creator of large-scale 3D printing method Contour Crafting, brought his 2015 prediction that the robotic 3D printing machines would be commercially available within a couple years to fruition this summer, not long before the IAAC publicly demonstrated the ability of its large cable-driven robots to 3D print large structures directly on a construction site. Caterpillar and the private equity fund Rusnano Sistema Sicar both made investments in robotic 3D printing construction this year, while Fraunhofer ILT and Cazza Construction each debuted new robotic 3D printing construction innovations.
Chris Kelsey, the CEO and Co-Founder of Cazza, told 3DPrint.com in September, “The possibilities of 3D printing are still being explored and it’s an incredibly exciting time to be involved with this technology. We feel that architecture presents the greatest promise in terms of efficiency and capabilities. We intend to revolutionize the construction industry through disruptive technology, making building safer, faster, more cost effective and environmentally-friendly.”
Different Types of 3D Printed Structures
Robotic 3D printing technology was also used to manufacture the first robotic 3D printed bridges, which were made with modified plastic and stand at Tongji University’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning (CAUP).
The Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in the Netherlands began developing a giant concrete 3D printer two years ago for a large-scale research project. The concrete 3D printer, which also makes use of a construction robot, was used in a collaborative project to 3D print a concrete pedestrian and bike bridge, which officially opened to cyclists this fall. The most unique bridge of all was proposed in Mosul, and would be home to 3D printed houses, as between 50% and 75% of the city was destroyed by ISIS over the last few years.
Bridges weren’t the only structure 3D printed this year – in Russia, just a few months after a 38-square-meter house was 3D printed in 24 hours, 2017 saw the completed construction of a residential house, made out of standard M-300 concrete sand with a 3D portal printer.
“It was important for us to create a precedent, to show in practice that 3D construction technology is working,” said Alexander Maslov, General Director of the AMT-SPECAVIA group of companies in a translated quote. “At that time, printing houses – it was something from the realm of fantasy. We set the task to make it real.”
According to ETH Zurich, the DFAB House it’s building with several business partners will be the first house to be designed, planned, and built with almost entirely digital processes, including robotic construction and 3D printing. Chinese construction company WinSun agreed to lease 100 3D printers to a Saudi Arabian contracting company, which will be used to 3D print 1.5 million affordable homes.
A creative agency based in New York and Oslo started a project to create modular hexagonal pods, featuring 3D printed interiors made out of recycled polycarbonate, as personal shelters for the homeless in NYC, and CyBe Construction showed off its speed and skill by 3D printing five concrete benches in a single day.
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