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There is no doubt that 3D printing will impact the design and production of buildings, whether residential or commercial. Efforts are underway to understand how traditional building materials, techniques, and aesthetics can be impacted through the introduction of 3D printing. The question that remains, once we determine what the possibilities are, is whether or not the fact that 3D printing can be used necessarily means that 3D printing should be used.

3D printed walls being lifted into place

Currently, the integration of 3D printing into design and construction is in an exploratory phase. Components for construction are being developed that are fabricated using 3D printers and the limitations on printing at the scale needed to create walls are constantly being pushed farther and farther. However, just as the ability to 3D print cells has not led to the creation of fully functioning organs, neither has the ability to fabricate construction components led to the creation at one go of fully functioning 3D printed buildings. It is simply not possible, at this point in time, to 3D print a complete building.

That doesn’t mean that it won’t be a possibility in the future and Nikita Cheniuntai, the founder and CEO of Apis Cor, is optimistic that this ability will come about. While recognizing that there are a number of challenges to be overcome before 3D printing housing is possible – though last year Apis Cor 3D printed a small house in 24 hours – Cheniuntai has determined that it is a worthwhile goal, as he explained:

“Perspectives and possible solutions are beautiful things that compel us to move forward. But we have a lot of work to do today. For this technology to become popular and to actively conquer the market, we need to solve many problems…We are now actively engaged in this task and have the following objectives: By the end of 2019, provide a solution for printing entire houses – foundations, slabs, and roofs. In 2018, develop a solution for using 3D printing in high-rise construction, and also increase the degree of automation to the maximum, making the equipment almost self-contained.”

The question that arises then is this: is it always in our best interests to substitute technology for humans? There are moments where the answer seems fairly clear, such as the possibility to send in drones to search for explosives or survivors in buildings on the edge of collapse, or when extracting minerals from deep underground, or trying to understand what the surface of Venus is like. There is a fascination with the mechanization of all aspects of society, even when undertaken as part of a genuine concern for the safety and security of our fellow humans, which can have some fairly negative consequences.

The enthusiasm for 3D printing is no different than our worship of other technologies. Yes, it is possible to replace the checkout person with a machine, but is that Good? It depends on whom you ask. It’s probably good for the corporate bottom line. Is it Good for the person whose job is gone? Is it Good for the people who go to the store, for whom this might be one of the few human interactions they have during their day? Is it Good for a culture to remove opportunities for strangers to interact with each other? Is it Good for the customer who suddenly finds their labor being appropriated for the benefit of the CEO and shareholders, now having to pay the same and do work for free?

If the goal is to be able to achieve things in construction that human beings cannot through their labor or to protect humans from unreasonable danger, then it is easier to understand the benefits of 3D printing in construction. If it will be possible to provide low cost housing that will help address the shortage of available options for people who are economically disadvantaged as a result of 3D printing in construction, then it is easier to understand the benefits. There are a myriad of ways in which 3D printing in construction could provide enormous benefits.

If, however, it is simply to replace human workers with machines, the issue is stickier. Employment is important, not only for economic reasons but also as a way of generating a feeling of self worth. Replacing people with machines simply because we can, and largely because it benefits the wealthiest, is not in our interests in the long run. The idea that construction is a job that people should be relieved of through mechanization is an elitist approach and should be carefully considered.

I’m not suggesting that I have the answer to this question figured out, but what I am suggesting is that there needs to exist a discourse of ethics that allows us to wrestle with the issues that are raised through technology and that is robust enough to handle disagreement without resorting to trite characterizations of Luddites versus Fahrenheit 451. Untempered enthusiasm for shutting humans out is no better than shuttering oneself in a cabin the woods and living off leaves and berries. Apis Cor has an economic stake in advancing the use of 3D printing in construction; the rest of us have a stake in determining whether or not just because something can be done, it should be.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source/Images: Nikita Cheniuntai/Apis Cor via Medium]

 

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