3D Printing in Residential Construction: Today’s Potential

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As 3D printing began to infiltrate the mainstream in recent years—and all around the world—researchers, designers, engineers, and makers in nearly every field found a way to embrace the technology, enticed by infinite opportunities for creation, and many of which would not have been possible previously.

You may have found yourself joking initially that soon everything around us would be 3D printed, imagining the perfect family living in their 3D printed home with a 3D printed car, and the ability to 3D print everything from within! And true, it didn’t take long for strides to take hold in the construction (or automotive industry) industry, with homes, offices, and other structures being 3D printed from The Netherlands to China, and many other places in between; in fact, an entire village is being 3D printed in Italy.

As interest grows in 3D printing a variety of different residential structures, there is curiosity by many as to how this will affect the future of the construction industry—leading up to Jeffrey Hammond’s research paper, ‘3D Printing Homes Impact on the Residential Construction Industry.’ A researcher in construction management from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Hammond discusses how new technology like 3D printing could help construction companies become more efficient.

Easy on-site assembly of fabricated pieces is a plus in construction 3D printing. Both a track-based printer (a track system is built into the foundation) and a radius printer (sitting in the middle of the home and printing upward and outward) are being used for most 3D construction projects today. Not only do these machines cut down on material waste, but they eliminate the need for manpower too:

“The only labor that is necessary is the labor needed to build the foundation, the roof, and any labor needed to build block-outs for windows and doors,” states Hammond. “Labor is eliminated to a large extent but given its current limitations and its layer by layer method of building, windows and doors need block-outs installed in order for the process to continue unless you want a completely enclosed structure with no natural light.”

“One of the largest limitations to the technology currently is the inability to print the roof which ensures that additional cost will be need to build the roof through current typical means and methods.”

An artist impression of the five 3D-printed concrete houses that will be realized in Eindhoven. [Image: Houben/Van Mierlo architects]

While there are other challenges such as the initial startup cost in purchasing 3D printing equipment for construction, issues with home aesthetics, and other factors inevitably to be discovered, the benefits are substantial, to include:

  • Rapid turnaround for homebuilding projects – allowing contractors to take on considerably more work each year, creating much more profit
  • Greater efficiency due to the additive manufacturing process, in comparison to subtractive processes which take more time and create more waste
  • Exponentially less cost due to the decreased need for construction labor and materials such as wood
  • Less challenge in having materials delivered to jobsites

From ‘3D Printing Homes Impact on the Residential Construction Industry.’

Hammond goes on to examine further potential for 3D printing residences in lower income areas:

“This technology has tremendous potential to impact those that don’t need anything besides a roof over their heads and security at night. No builder can turn around and build 3D printed homes for a profit currently based off what can be learned through research, yet his shouldn’t stop those that don’t intend to make a profit and are just trying to help the world and create a large amount of goodwill.”

“There are places around the world where the building restrictions are lower and the ability to mass produce these homes for those impoverished is vital humanitarian work. 3D printed homes can also be viable in the United States if a program was established by the government either for housing for those in extreme poverty or those in need of relief after a major disaster. These homes can provide much better shelters than those currently provided by disaster relief effort teams.”

As 3D printing technology stands today, Hammond sees its benefits as best suited to humanitarian projects where construction managers are not worrying about business goals or making a dollar.

“3D printed homes as they are currently made are not suitable for the United States residential construction industry but in time they can be a force on the industry changing the way homes are built,” concludes Hammond.

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: CalPoly]
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