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Innovation Rising: 3-D Printing in the Construction Industry

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By James White

When you hear the term 3-D printing, it’s difficult to imagine how it can apply to the construction industry. How could using a digital blueprint to create objects out of plastic or another material translate to the world of construction? Believe it or not, 3-D printing is versatile and can be used in many ways. It has actually been used in the construction industry already, thanks to a Chinese company called WinSun. WinSun claims to have built 10 3-D printed houses in a single day, with a total cost for each house coming to $5,000. That’s pretty impressive, to say the least.

Building for the Future

How is this possible, you ask? 3-D construction is done using grand-scale printers, which employ the use of a special concrete and composite mixture. This mixture is actually much thicker than traditional concrete, which allows it to support itself as it sets, in addition to drying much faster. No, this is not a hoax. 3-D printed buildings can actually be fabricated using digital blueprints. In addition, 3-D-based construction can be more efficient at times. For instance, curved concrete structures can be designed with a hollow composition.

This uses less building materials and space to work inside the structure – without sacrificing strength and support. Tactics like this can be used to maintain quality of a building, while saving the builders valuable money and resources in the process. It’s a win-win situation. WinSun took the process a step further and created an entire five-story apartment building and 11,840-square-foot villa using its touted 3-D printing construction methods. The 3-D prints were actually created at a remote facility and transferred in pieces to the project site. Then, the prefabricated pieces were assembled with steel reinforcements and the necessary insulation.

Speed and Savings

According to CNET, WinSun saves between 30 and 60 percent of construction waste thanks to 3-D printing. It can further reduce production times by 50 to 70 percent and reduce labor costs by 50 to 80 percent. Not only will 3-D printing reduce manpower requirements, but it will also speed up the construction and assembly process. However, it does bring to mind the matter of codes and standards. It will be interesting to see how modern building codes are enforced with these 3-D printed structures. It’s not difficult to imagine someone coming along and perfecting these ideas, though.

Construction technology and innovations are hot trends for all major construction companies. Imagine a much larger 3-D printer, for instance, that is designed to build structures in prefabricated pieces autonomously. You could just upload the blueprints into a computer and wait for a few days for the husk of a building to be printed. Then, simply transfer the pieces – and materials – to the project site and assemble them as necessary (like modular building). Can you imagine finishing a project this way? You better get used to it, you may be using methods like this real soon.

James White is an experienced home improvement blogger who works in construction. 

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact alan.dorich@phoenixmediacorp.com or jim.harris@phoenixmediacorp.com.