Construction 3D printing refers to various technologies that use 3D printing as the method to fabricate entire buildings or parts of buildings. There are a variety of 3D printing methods used at construction scale, with the main ones being extrusion (concrete/cement, wax, foam, polymers) and powder bonding (polymer bond, reactive bond, sintering). 3D Printing advantages include faster construction, lower labor costs, increased complexity and/or accuracy, greater integration of function, and less waste produced.
Construction 3D printing has seen a significant increase in popularity in recent years with many new companies, including some backed by prominent names from the construction industry and academia. This led to several important milestones, such as the first 3D printed commercial building, the first 3D printed bridge, the first 3D printed part in a public building, the first living 3D printed building in Europe and CIS, and the first 3D printed building in Europe fully approved by the authorities (COBOD International), among many others.
History of 3D Printing in Construction
In 1984, Charles “Chuck” Hull invented stereolithography (SLA), a method of 3D printing where designers create a 3D model that is then printed layer by layer into a solid, physical object. In 2006, Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of Southern California unveiled the Contour Crafting System, an enormous 3D printer designed to literally print buildings in place. It works like a desktop 3D printer, but uses a crane to do the printing, and concrete as the medium, to lay down a building’s structural elements. One 3D printing system developed by the Massachussetts Institute of Technology uses a large, highly controllable robotic arm to spray materials like concrete via any conventional construction nozzle.
The World’s First 3D-printed Commercial Building
The world’s first 3D-printed commercial building, according to the Guinness World Records, is in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The 2,600 sq ft building houses the office of the Dubai Future Academy. It is described that “one 3D printer took 17 days to print the basic building design”. The building reportedly required 50% less manpower as against traditional methods of building.
The World’s First 3D-printed Home
While there are many claimants for the first 3D printed house, a family in Nantes, France, was the first in the world to move into a 3D-printed house, in 2018. The four-bedroom, 1,022 sq ft property was printed in 54 hours and it took contractors four more months to add windows, doors and roof. The house, made using insulator polyurethane and cement, was reportedly constructed at 80% of prevailing construction costs.
The World’s First 3D-printed Apartment Building
The first 3D-printed apartment building was reported built in Suzhou, China in 2016. Reportedly using a machine 20 feet tall, 33 feet wide and 132 feet long, the fabricators started with a basic CAD drawing which they fed into the 3D printer which subsequently fabricated the structure piece-by-piece using a specially formulated and patented ‘ink’. The ‘ink’ mixture included construction waste such as concrete, fiberglass, sand, and a special hardening agent. The mixture is reportedly recycles general construction materials and is self-insulating, and earthquake-resistant.
The World’s First 3D-printed Housing Development
The world’s first 3D-printed neighborhood was constructed in Tabasco, southern Mexico, in 2018. The U.S.-based nonprofit New Story teamed up with the tech company ICON to build the world’s first 3D printed neighborhood declaring their project goal as working to combat global homelessness.
For Further Reading:
Resources for further research into construction 3-D printing include:
• There is a visual guide to construction 3-D printing at: https://3drific.com/3d-printed-houses-the-definitive-guide-with-pictures/
• Wikipedia discusses 3-D construction printing at an article found at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Construction_3D_printing
• Another resource is the article “Five 3D Printing Applications in Construction”: https://builtin.com/hardware/3d-printing-construction