3D printers have seamlessly found their applications into almost all the spheres, including diverse fields like healthcare, food & beverage, construction and many more. Architects across the world have come up with ways to implement this new technology which is impeccably being looked at for construction as well.
Research teams have been experimenting with 3D printers, to build components of buildings and entire homes. The printing is done with super-size printers which use special concrete and composite mixture as raw materials. This mixture is much thicker than regular concrete, giving the construction a strong base.
This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for architects everywhere. Unlike the rectilinear form of construction, 3D printing can be used to create curvilinear designs which are a new trend. Structural components that are made via 3D printing, otherwise known as “contour crafting,” use less material than the same components that are used in normal concrete forming techniques. Curved concrete structures can be either solid or hollow, based on production methods such as conventional method and concrete crafting method respectively. Concrete crafting method allows space for essential construction services inside the structural elements of the building.
FIGURE 1 COST OF CONSTRUCTION PER M2, BY COUNTRY, 2014 ($)
With the advent of new technologies in construction industry, building as a process has become more convenient, but the overall cost to be borne increases eventually as the economic condition of a country improves. The above graph shows the cost of construction per m2 of land across major countries in construction. Across the globe, many countries are seeing a spike in the cost of construction, but with the increasing costs rise a question of affordability by the low income people. This is where contour crafting comes into picture which helps in reducing the cost of construction by 60% approximately.
FIGURE 2 COST OF RAW MATERIALS PER M2, BY COUNTRY, 2014 ($)
The graph above compares the cost of raw materials per m2 of land, between conventional construction and contour crafting, for countries with higher construction activities. The cost of raw materials comes down by almost 50%, due to the usage of recycled construction waste materials. On the other hand, the cost of labor decreases by almost 80%, due to the automation of machines, which in this case are giant 3D printers. The graph below shows the cost of labor for different countries, addressing the cost difference in conventional construction and contour crafting.
FIGURE 3 COST OF LABOR PER M2, BY COUNTRIES, 2014 ($)
3D printing technology, if utilized and scaled up, has a realistic possibility to revolutionize the construction industry by reducing the cost of labor and also the time required for construction. In a recent accomplishment, a Chinese company named WinSun has built almost 10 buildings in a day, using giant 3D printers measuring 10m x 6.6m. The best part of using this technology is that, the company uses waste to produce raw materials for the construction of houses. The materials being used are, mixture of cement, glass fiber and other construction wastes which are processed in an environmentally friendly manner and sells the house at an extremely affordable price of $5,000 per unit.
According to this, some of the advantages the technology possesses include accurate and faster construction of buildings; with usage of digital modeling the chances for mistakes decreases. Another advantage is the reduced labor cost; the machine would do the whole work reducing strain on humans. Lean management along with the usage of environment friendly materials are some other advantages of this technology. With a series of advantages in line, contour crafting has a bright future.
FIGURE 4 CHINA CONSTRUCTION COST COMPARISON, 2014 ($)
According to the above graph, the total cost of construction can be potentially reduced by 60% using 3D printing. If we look into the bigger perspective, then this difference in cost can be utilized for providing other amenities to the needy people. In the next 5 to 10 years time, this technology is all set to gain an upsurge in demand in the construction segment, by changing the conventional brick and mortar construction with digital modeling.
- Zhuoda Group, a Chinese 3D printing company ‘printed’ the house using 3d printing technology. The house, built in Xi’an, China – is fully functional, with electricity, Ethernet, water, sewage and all other utilities ready to start operations. For the said 200 m2 house (2153 sq. ft.), the total cost was approximately $96,500
- 3D Printed, modular villa assembled in three hours by WinSun Company, China
- India, looking out to follow the Chinese technology for building houses
Across the globe, developed countries are diverting their investments to 3D printing knowing the significant advantages; this would ease the whole process of construction. China is currently the only country which is actively investing in 3D printing for the construction industry, which will soon be carried out by other countries as well. The government can get involved by providing subsidies to the equipment, materials and also valuable reimbursements to the firms which operate in the construction industry using this 3D printing technology. If government authorities can provide with proper funding for these start-up companies, then the innate problem of accommodating the massive low income population would be solved across countries. The economic benefit of providing housing to every citizen to the GDP of an economy must not be lost on the law-making bodies.