A Closer Look at New 3D Printed Construction Projects
In recent years, interest in 3D printing in the construction industry has led to its increasingly widespread adoption. This article will provide an overview of the technology and explore recent projects, completed and in development, that take advantage of this innovative technology.
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3D Printing Buildings – The Next Big Thing in Construction?
In the United States alone, the market value of the construction sector was approximately $1.36 trillion in 2020. With the growing need for residential and commercial buildings to house and provide workspaces for an expanding global population , there are opportunities for new technological breakthroughs to address industry challenges. These challenges include cost, waste, emissions, reduced project timelines, and environmental damage.
3D printing, which in the public mind is more associated with the manufacture of components for sectors such as the biomedical industry and consumer products, has made significant inroads in the construction industry. Benefits the technology provides include cost and time reductions, durability, less waste and emissions, replicability, and the ability to create highly customizable building designs.
3D printing of entire structures has vast potential to become the next big thing as the construction industry seeks to reduce costs and improve sustainability. However, this technology has certain drawbacks, especially in terms of the limited choice of materials. These are currently mostly limited to various types of concrete (some research is currently being done on 3D printing components such as bricks, however) and a lack of information available on durability and weather resistance.
The typical time needed to fully print a detached structure is between 24 hours and a week. In a building 3D printer, the nozzle is supported by a gantry crane or is installed in a robotic arm. Concrete mixes must be fluid enough to be extruded. Conversely, the walls (which do not require a load-bearing framework) must be stable until the concrete has set. 3D printers create hundreds of layers of material in each cavity wall. After the adjustment, the insulation is installed and the wiring and other vital elements are routed through service ducts.
3D printed housing projects currently completed
The 3D printing enclosure concept has quickly moved from design, testing and prototyping stages over the past two years to the real world. Some exciting projects were completed in 2021. Although the scale of these projects was small, they demonstrated the potential of the technology and gave a glimpse of what future urban areas could look like.
In Austin, Texas, the four East 17 unitsand The Street Residences complex was completed in March 2021. Designed by Logan Architecture, the dwellings, although not fully 3D printed, were completed in less than a week using an ICON 3D printer Vulcan. The ground floors of the houses are 3D printed, with the upper floors being made using more traditional building techniques. Retailing for a starting price of $450,000, these are, according to the developers, the first commercially available 3D-printed homes in the United States.
In Europe, there has also been progress in the field of 3D printed houses, with the first structures going on sale. In Germany, Peri has developed the first ready-to-occupy 3D printed house in the country. The company collaborated with Mense-Korte, an architecture and engineering firm. The building was printed using COBOD’s BOD2 concrete printer. The printing process took a few weeks to complete the 160 square meter two-storey house.
The Milestone project, a planned residential complex in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, saw the construction of the first legally inhabited 3D-printed house in Europe. The project’s first completed house, designed to look like a rock, was printed in a factory and assembled on site. It is constructed from twenty-four large concrete elements and was printed in 120 hours. Currently, a retired Dutch couple lives there.
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In Dubai, no stranger to ambitious construction projects, a 3D printed office was built at a cost of around $140,000 in 17 days. The construction project required minimal labor when constructing the office space, demonstrating the potential savings for the industry in the future.
Projects under development
While the scope of 3D printed construction projects is limited, many exciting projects are on the horizon. The Milestone project itself is envisioned to provide five naturally shaped dwellings. Beyond this project, there are big plans in the construction industry to fully realize the potential of 3D printing to shape the future of urban areas.
In Austin, Texas, the ground is being laid on an ambitious project that aims to print an entire neighborhood of 100 3D-printed homes, each with freedom of form. The houses will be printed using ICON’s proprietary Lavacrete material and their Vulcan printers. Dwellings up to 3,000 square feet can be delivered by the building system, and each dwelling will include rooftop solar photovoltaic panels. When completed, it will be the largest 3D printed neighborhood in the world.
In California, Mighty Buildings and Palari Group have announced plans to build fifteen homes in their Rancho Mirage development, which is expected to be completed in the spring of 2022. The homes will be constructed from 3D-printed prefab panels. It will be the world’s first zero-emission 3D-printed home community. These modular homes will be steel framed.
3D printing of buildings has moved from the conceptual stage to practice, with a growing number of projects around the world demonstrating its potential as a disruptive and game-changing technology that will solve the myriad problems currently plaguing the construction industry. The scale of ambition is enormous: for example, in Dubai, 25% of new buildings are expected to be 3D printed by 2030. The future of 3D printing in the construction industry is looking to the least exciting.
Further reading and more information
Englefield, J. (2021) BIG and ICON will create the world’s “largest district” of 3D printed houses [online] Deeen.com. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2021/11/01/icon-and-big-worlds-largest-neighborhood-3d-printed-homes/
Englefield, J. (2021) Mighty Buildings plans a neighborhood of 3D-printed homes for California [online] Dezeen.com. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2021/03/31/mighty-buildings-3d-printed-houses-california/
Source 3D (2021) The 12 Most Exciting 3D Printed Home Builds of 2022 [online] 3dsourced.com. Available at: https://www.3dsourced.com/guides/3d-printed-house-2/
Bianchini, R (2021) 3D printing in construction: where are we? [online] inexhibit.com. Available at: https://www.inexhibit.com/case-studies/3d-printing-in-construction-where-are-we-now