Overcoming the Challenges: The Road Ahead for 3D Printing in Construction

By on March 11th, 2024 in Ideas, news

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The construction industry has looked different in recent years due to demands for sustainability and innovation. 3D printing has been a catalyst for this change in construction, but it is relatively still in its infancy. Advanced tech and construction are beginning to fuse to create a streamlined version of design and production. 

The journey toward integrating 3D printing, in particular, into mainstream construction practices is not without its challenges. Learn about the complexities of 3D printing in construction and delve into some of the following innovative solutions to pave the way for a promising built environment of the future.

Current Limitations of 3D Printing in Construction

Despite the significant strides that have been made in 3D printing technology, it still has some hurdles to jump when integrating into practical, wide-scale fields like construction. The adaptability of 3D printing and its available materials calls into question the viability of using it for large or complex construction projects. 

The rapid pace at which tech is advancing also offers a palpable challenge for a hardworking industry so rooted in traditional methods. Training on new tech like 3D printers isn’t always feasible, but it’s necessary for proper deployment and maintenance. Dive deeper into how 3D printing is holding up at its current state in the construction field and what limitations exist.

Material Diversity 

Currently, the most common material used in 3D printing are polymers. While this material could work for some construction applications, like wiring, tubing, waterproofing, and decor, there is a need to expand beyond plastic printing. As 3D printing is being widely adopted and valued, the tech is receiving the funds needed to venture into different source materials. Construction, in particular, necessitates the printing of wood, metal, and carbon fiber to name a few. 

While these print materials are in development, they are not widely available currently for construction purposes. The construction sector demands materials that not only exhibit structural integrity suitable for building purposes but also possess the versatility to meet an array of design and sustainability requirements. To truly streamline the industry’s processes, the construction field needs complex 3D printing of items like concrete molds made out of wood fiber. Luckily, the need is clear and materials like this are being developed for printing. 

Technological Advancements

3D printing is a fast-paced, evolving technology. This makes it difficult to keep up with, as construction companies will need to purchase the latest advancements and upgrades. Although it’s wise to stay competitive by integrating cutting-edge tech, 3D printing isn’t affordable yet for larger-scale projects. 

If a construction company invests in a 3D printer that is then rendered obsolete, it may not be financially feasible to replace it. Not to mention, the 3D printing process involves specific material purchases and software integration. Upgrading existing infrastructure and workflows is already difficult enough without the added stress of having to replace tech too often, wasting time and resources. 

Workforce Training

Integrating any new tech into a workforce involves extensive team buy-in and training. 3D printing, in particular, requires comprehensive training to ensure proper use and avoid costly maintenance. The transition from conventional construction methods to cutting-edge tech requires specialized skills and knowledge. Training existing construction professionals to proficiently operate, troubleshoot, and maximize the potential of 3D printing tech demands a considerable investment of time and resources.

Overcoming Hurdles To Harness the Potential of 3D Printing

Efficient, sustainable, and creative construction practices are possible through 3D printing. However, leaders in the industry have to get a little creative to harness the full potential of 3D printing. For one, stakeholders must understand the importance of keeping up with tech advancements in the construction industry and be willing to fund upfront investments for machinery and software. 

Construction leadership must also make it a priority to integrate advanced maintenance strategies to enhance the longevity of the equipment. This can mitigate repair and replacement costs, enhancing the durability and efficiency of whatever 3D printing machine the company has decided to integrate at that time. Maximizing the use of a construction 3D printer can be achieved through investing resources into continued education for current employees. This will take time and resources in the beginning, but with funding and dedication, it will be worth the positive results and competitive advantage in the end.

The industry also has some construction projects spearheading the 3D printing movement. For example, the UK’s National Highways and Cambridge are working on 3D printing headwalls that go along roads to prevent damage from flooding and support water underneath roadways. These types of use cases are important to solidify the credibility and usefulness of 3D printing in a sometimes hard-headed industry. 

The Future of Construction

The coming years in the construction industry look bright and filled with tech advancements. Collaborative efforts, coupled with strategic investments in both technology and human capital, will enable construction companies to surmount challenges and unlock the full potential of 3D printing. 

By Indiana Lee

Indiana Lee is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering technological advancements, social justice, sustainability, and more. In her off time you can find her deep in the mountains with her two dogs. Follow her work on Twitter @indianalee3 or reach her at [email protected]

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