Technology

How 3D Printing Can Improve Efficiency in the Construction Industry

While 3D printing has existed since the 1980s, the technology has only recently become widely accessible. Recent technological advances have brought a wide range of printers to market ranging in size, price, and quality. Accessibility to affordable small scale machines and materials now allows suppliers to use 3D printing as a viable option for production. 3D printing presents opportunities to address two major building industry challenges: the shortage of skilled labor and rising material costs.

To address the challenges in reduced craft labor, construction companies must continue to look for new techniques to replace human manpower. There are multiple firms working to develop printers to extrude concrete with near surgical precision. Contour Crafting technology, like a fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer, uses a robotic arm to print layers of concrete based on a computer model. The application requires minimal labor costs, providing a viable manufacturing strategy to reduce the reliance on human labor.

“3D printing offers new manufacturing processes that allow suppliers to produce cost-effective products with minimal labor input.”

The rising costs of materials, due to economic drivers such as tariffs, has continued to drive up the overall cost of construction. 3D printing offers new manufacturing processes that allow suppliers to produce cost-effective products with minimal labor input. In 2015, a team of MIT researchers developed a method for 3D printing glass that is optically transparent and strong enough to withstand subtle strength tests. The process entailed pouring molten glass into a hopper and layer-printing the computer-aided design using a robotic arm. In the future, 3D printing of construction materials will transform the traditional building supply chain.

The construction industry awaits disruption and 3D printing will likely play a key role in changing how we build. When integrated with robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing will offer solutions to some of construction’s biggest problems.

Mark Pacheco, Assistant Project Manager, HITT Contracting

Patrick O’Toole, Project Manager, HITT Contracting