What is 3D Printing?
3D printing is a manufacturing process by which a three-dimensional object is created from a digital model. The process entails laying down successive layers of thin horizontal cross-sections until the entire project is completed. As this technology continues to grow, demand is also on the rise in many industries. 3D Printing is now present in the retail, aviation and healthcare spheres, and is steadily growing in construction. To execute largescale construction projects, super-size printers are needed in conjunction with specialized materials. This unique method has proven to allow for shorter project times and less waste production, which creates a more efficient construction system. These new technologies however, may also prove to be detrimental to some parts of the construction industry, mainly its workforce. This article weighs the benefits and shortcomings of 3D printing, providing you with a basic guideline on what forward-thinking companies must consider before adopting this emerging construction technology. Find additional news on construction technology here.
Advantages of 3D Printing on the Construction Industry
- The greatest impact 3D printing will have on construction would be increased speed and accuracy. By essentially transferring a digital model into a physical one, 3D printing allows for an incredibly efficient option. Furthermore, by using digital models, the printer ensures that each subsequent piece is uniform and consistent, accelerating the construction process even further.
- Secondly, 3D printing has the potential to significantly lower labor costs. Much fewer workers will be needed to execute jobs, taking most of the human work out of the entire construction process. The 3D printer is capable of replacing a number of jobs that are typically divided up among a large number of workers. This advantage bodes well for owners of construction and manufacturing companies who will be able to save money, but could potentially be detrimental to those in the workforce.
- Thirdly, 3D printing will be able to greatly reduce the amount of waste typically produced during construction. This adoption of Lean Construction principles is not only a cost-saving measure, but provides a more environmentally-friendly option. Traditionally, the construction industry has been hampered by overproduction and excess waste, problems that can be reversed with 3D printing. In addition, 3D printing ensures that components will be made to order, minimizing the amount of materials needed.
- 3D printing can also create safer work environments and can reduce health and safety risks. Dangerous jobs and duties on construction sites can eventually be replaced by printing processes, eliminating the need for humans to undertake these responsibilities.
- Lastly, a technique known as Contour Crafting has been developed that allows large projects, like creating homes, to be done through 3D printing. With the availability to these technologies growing, budding entrepreneurs, business owners and consumers themselves will soon be granted access to 3D printing, allowing them to control the entire course of any given project. This will ultimately bypass the need for collaborating with construction companies, putting the power into the hands of customers.
Disadvantages of 3D Printing on the Construction Industry
- The most noteworthy negative impact 3D printing will have on the construction industry would be the reduction and elimination of existing jobs. If implemented by more companies, 3D printing is capable of replacing a large percentage of the workforce that is typically needed to carry out an entire construction project.
- Similarly, because fewer and more specific types of materials will be needed, traditional manufacturing companies may also be negatively affected, with demand for their products decreasing.
- Despite the seemingly positive discourse surrounding 3D printing, it still provides a large number of shortcomings that may bode well for traditional construction companies and its workers. These issues include logistical or transportation problems. If 3D printing is used for a given project, the transportation of the printer may create problems. Another issue 3D printing poses is where the printer can be stored at a construction site. These are often large and expensive pieces of equipment and must be stored safely.
- Additionally, if a digital model has any errors, the creation of its 3D versions may also pose the same problems. The risks for defects or wasted material becomes significantly higher if a faulty digital model is used. Any errors can cause delays, and may take longer to repair with fewer resources available that caters to this new technology.
3D printing technologies has grown exponentially within the construction sector. This relatively fast and inexpensive alternative has many implications on the way construction is done now, and more importantly, how it will alter the industry in the future. As 3D printing continues to advance, expect to see everyone involved in the construction process, from architects, engineers, contractors and factory workers who will be affected either positively or negatively.
3D printing, some will argue, is the natural progression for an industry that continues to modernize. Careful consideration by all construction companies will be needed when deciding upon the actual implementation of 3D printing technologies. Although there is a long list of advantages that make 3D printing attractive, there remains a number of shortcomings that still need to be addressed.