The Rapid Advancement of 3D Printing in Construction

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Robison Wells
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The world is changing at breakneck speed, and the construction industry is at the forefront of new technology. A few months ago, Power Tools reported on a man who built his own concrete-spewing 3D printer, which he used to build his kids a house in the backyard. Since that time, there have been dozens of 3D-printed buildings making headlines.

A Russia-based construction company has found a way to mass produce small, stylistic homes with a mobile concrete printer. At just over 600 square feet, these houses can be built for $10,000 dollars--70% cheaper than the same house being constructed using conventional techniques. The homes are small and rounded to accommodate the central printer, but the company, Apis Cor, says they're developing technology fast enough that larger, square homes will be coming in the very near future. For now, it's a cheap and efficient way to build solid homes for low income housing.

Perhaps even more amazing is that these Russian dwellings can be completely printed in 24 hours.

Dubai, which seems to build outlandish things just because they're outlandish, is in the planning stages of a 3D printed skyscraper. The company, Cazza, says the building won't be entirely printed: it will have printed elements and conventional elements. Also, rather than the printer-in-the-middle-of-the-house design used in Russia, the Dubai project will print on the ground, and then lift the printed structures into place using conventional cranes.

While not exactly the same as 3D printing, an American company, Construction Robotics, has built a machine called the SAM100: the Semi-Automated Mason. The robot uses the same extruded concrete of a 3D printer, but also has a feed of bricks. It can lay between 800 to 1200 bricks in a day. For now, it doesn't put a human mason out of a job. The SAM100 requires the overseeing by a trained mason who cleans up problems and manages the tricky bits. But it is faster than a human, plus it eliminates the repetitive motion injuries and back problems that can come from such heavy, bent-over work.

And 3D printing isn't just being used for cheap buildings that need to be built fast. China had success earlier this year using 3D printing to create highly-detailed for the restoration of historic buildings, including some work on pillars in The Forbidden City. It was found that, working with humans, a printer could do the precision work that was needed for these fragile and delicate ancient structures.

All of these uses of 3D printing in construction have been developed and used in just the last couple years. The potentials are mind-boggling: it is safe, precise, fast, and--most important--cheap. Yes, some of these projects are just 3D for 3D's sake. But those are becoming fewer and fewer and builders are finding legitimate ways for these to be used. It will be interesting to see where we are a few years from now.

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