3D Printed Construction: Taking Off? Or Still On The Taxiway?

A 3D printed home / office concept

A 3D printed home / office concept

There’s been plenty of media coverage regarding the concept of 3D printed construction projects, but is this really happening? 

You’ve no doubt seen media reports about a “building being 3D printed”, or a “world’s first 3D printed [fill in type of structure]” stories. But the idea of actually 3D printing complete structures has yet to be proven to be both technically and financially feasible.

There is plenty of experimentation taking place, and indeed even several startup companies aggressively pursuing the concept, some of which is based on the early work of USC professor Behrokh Khoshnevis of Contour Crafting over ten years ago.  
  
Most 3D printed construction in recent times has been to develop methods of producing concrete structures, such as walls and foundations. Roofs and ceilings are a bit more complex, as you might imagine. 

There’s been far less work on other aspects of 3D printed construction, such as incorporating plumbing, electrical, HVAC, surface textures, etc, as these elements in almost all cases must be manually installed after the basic structure is 3D printed. 

Then there’s the matter of finances. Building construction is notoriously dependent on the price of the activity, as buyers often employ competitions for winning construction companies. 3D printing is generally an expensive prospect, and thus most of the 3D printed construction projects thus far have been sponsored externally in some way, or are in cash rich zones, like Dubai, that have expressed interest in the technology. 

Another area of use is the production of complex concrete components that can be incorporated into an otherwise typical structure. This works reasonably well as the 3D printing equipment can be located in a controlled-environment factory separate from the construction site. 

If this sounds depressing, don’t think it so. Every technology looks pretty horrible when it is first applied, and it is entirely possible that 3D printing could make enormous gains in the future, that is if if people keep working on the problems. 

But are they? One clue that recently indicated progress was the announcement of a second 3D Printing Conference. The first one was held earlier this year in Copenhagen, as this new one will be. But what caught my interest was in fact the interest shown in this event. It seems to be attracting most of the major players in 3D printed construction, including: Cazza, Winsun, Xtree, and many others. And they’ve even lined up Professor Khoshnevis himself to participate. Evidently they’re expecting at least 240 attendees, indicating significant interest. 

What this tells me is that there really is a community focusing on solving the issues of 3D printed building construction and that they are now beginning to meet on a semi-regular basis to share ideas and hash out solutions. 

It seems that if you’re working on this problem, you probably should be attending this event. The 3D printed construction “State of the Art” conference takes place in Copenhagen on 30 November. 

I’d say we’ve moved this topic to the taxiway. 

Via IDA Universe

General Fabb

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has been writing Fabbaloo posts since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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