3D Printing disrupting the construction sector

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Construction technology is reshaping the industry. Defined by CII, construction technology refers to the collection of innovative tools, machinery, modifications, software, etc. used during the construction phase of a project that enables advancement in field construction methods, including semi-automated and automated construction equipment.

3D printing has been a key technology that has been introduced, trialled and adopted over the last decade. It has had a lot of success within the medical, aerospace and manufacturing industries, and it’s capabilities could quickly shape and change the construction industry as we know it today.

According to PR newswire, the 3D printing construction market size was estimated to be USD 3 million in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 1,575 million by 2024, at a CAGR of 245.9% between 2019 and 2024.

The predicted market growth is not surprising given the numerous benefits the technology delivers. 3D printing is not only cost effective – saving on labour and material costs – but also saves time, is environmentally friendly, safer (lowers the number of people on site), reduces errors and eases the build of complex structures such as curves and unique shapes. 

Some stand-out examples of what can be achieved using this technology include:

  • Apis Cor, a robotics construction company, built the largest 3D printed building in the world last year located in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai. Measuring 9.5 metres high with a floor area of 640 sqm, Apis Cor built the Dubai Municipality. 
  • Laing O’Rourke used 3D-printed moulds to create bomb-resistant concrete cladding for new Crossrail stations at Tottenham Court Road and Liverpool Street in London. This was  the first large-scale use of 3D-printing in concrete. David Shillito, Operations Director at Laing O’Rourke’s manufacturing business, says it would have been impossible to complete the work to schedule without this approach. 
  • Beijing architecture firm HuaShang Tengda reached a new milestone in 2019 in the rise of 3D-printed buildings. The firm printed an entire 4,300-square-foot home in just 45 days, and the villa’s thick concrete walls are sturdy enough to sustain a magnitude eight earthquake.

There are still challenges and concerns over 3D construction printing – as there are with any major changes within a sector. The upfront cost is a considerable investment that requires high capital. There are concerns over knowledge and understanding of processes and capabilities, technological restrictions and lack of regulations/standards. That being said, the opportunities available, innovative designs already created, joint with the long list of benefits, has meant the technology cannot be ignored and is quickly spreading across the industry.

Companies that are adopting construction technology are reaping the rewards. They are gaining better collaboration, increased productivity, shorter lead times and projects being delivered under budget – giving them a competitive edge and resulting in higher profit margins. 

If 3D printing takes off as predicted, it will lead to a shift to higher-skilled workers and newly emerging job profiles along the construction value chain.