Although 3D printing has been around for decades, only recently has the concept really begun to take off in mainstream applications. Some believe additive manufacturing, the formal name for 3D printing, has the potential to dramatically change the construction industry and how structures are built. The advent and improvement of 3D printed homes could increase the environmental sustainability of the entire industry, and solve many of construction’s current struggles beyond that.
How 3D Printing Works
Most people understand how subtractive manufacturing works, even if they are unfamiliar with the terminology. With subtractive manufacturing, a person takes a piece of material and cuts it to the right size. The excess might be able to be reused, or it might not depending on the situation. Additive manufacturing builds up, instead of trimming down. With 3D printing, a professional places a material into the printing machine. The technology uses a design to put layers of the material on top of one another, using resin to seal them. The excess material can be reused for other projects. As long as the design has accurate proportions, it is entirely possible to 3D print most of the components needed to create a building.
Construction’s Sustainability Problems
As an industry in general, construction and real estate have some issues concerning environmental sustainability and efficient use of resources. Two of the biggest concern energy consumption and the production of waste. Looking at industry-wide figures shows how big the problem is. In the UK, construction waste accounts for around 120 million tonnes of waste put into landfills each year. That waste also demands a great deal of energy to remove it from the construction site and take it to a proper repository. This is only a portion of the construction industry’s overall energy usage, though. Although manufacturing is booming at present, its energy consumption is also on the rise.
3D Printing and Sustainability
The incorporation of 3D printing into more aspects of the residential and commercial building sector poses a number of possible benefits for sustainability. First, 3D printing could dramatically decrease wasted materials. In some cases, going the additive manufacturing route allows companies to cut down their use of materials by as much as 90 percent. Experts estimate that the more people use 3D printing to build, the more energy they will save. The machines use about 50 percent less energy than other methods, and call for a different kind of labor. The years-long construction labor shortage tends to lead to project overrun in time and cost. People who gain the skills and equipment needed for 3D printing may find that they can finish their more quickly.
A New Take on Modular Homes
These facts are starting to play out in interesting ways for the industry. Although a lot of people know what a modular home is, they may incorrectly associate it with an outdated or lower-quality product. With 3D printing, the concept of the modular home is taking on a new life. Traditionally, modular homes were built in pieces, then delivered to the site for assembly. Additive manufacturing allows a 3D printer to construct the individual pieces for the home at the project site, and complete the printing in only a couple of days. This might allow construction companies to build homes from start to finish in only a week or two. The new process could save time, labor, energy, and money for both consumer and builder.
3D printing could have the capacity to make most parts of the construction industry more effective and efficient with energy, fuel, and material usage. If the costs of large scale printers can decrease over time, it could be a viable way to achieve greater goals for industry sustainability across the globe.