As we continue our look at construction technology, I wanted to cover what is currently the most disruptive technology in construction.
Conventional methods of construction are extremely labor intensive. They require many skilled tradesmen working many hours.
As we saw in our look into robotics, there are several companies working to replace workers with machines.
3D Printing however, takes queues from existing technology and scales it up to completely change the way we build.
3D printing technology has come a long way since the concept was first patented in 1986 by Charles Hull. Today 3D printing is becoming more and more mainstream and more companies (and industries) are embracing this technology. From the early “on-demand” concepts of 2006 to recent large scale developments, this technology has captured our imagination.
There are several innovators at the forefront of this technology. Today I want to share who the key players are and where this technology is receiving the greatest attention.
Behrokh Khoshnevis University of Southern California Contour Crafting
At the forefront of all 3D printing technology is Behrokh Khoshnevis professor of industrial and systems engineering at the USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering. The technologies behind Today’s 3D Printing advancements were first developed by Khoshnevis in 2013.
Khoshnevis’ technology called Contour Crafting is comparable to technology used on smaller 3D desktop printers. In both scenarios the printer takes orders from CAD software. The printer spreads 4 inch layers of concrete through a nozzle. Each layer builds up the structure until the desired height and shape is achieved.
Today Khoshnevis and others are working with NASA to conceptualize how to build outposts on other planets using 3D Printing technology.
Houses built using 3D Printers
Building on the work of Professor Khoshnevis, several companies have embraced this technology to advance it and deploy it at large scale.
China has been at the forefront of this technology since 2014. Winsun 3D is a Shanghai company that holds 151 patents in 3D printing construction technology. Their technology famously produced 10 houses in 1 Day. They have also been involved in dozens of new printed buildings including Dubai’s Government Office.
With global construction giant AECOM as their partner, Winsun 3D is poised to be the global leader in 3D Printed Construction worldwide.
CyBe House in Saudi Arabia
In November of 2018 the Saudi Press Agency announced that Dutch Company CyBe together with Middle Eastern construction giant Consolidated Contractor’s Company had succeeded in erecting the first home using 3D printing technology. The 80SQM (860SQ FT) one bedroom house was erected in one week using a concrete 3D Printer.
The house is a fully functional proof-of-concept that demonstrates the effectiveness of this technology. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has set the ambitious goal of erecting 1.5Million printed houses by 2030.
Spanish Utility and Construction giant Acciona is an innovative early adopter of 3D printing technology. In 2016 Acciona and the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia revealed the world’s first 3D printed pedestrian bridge.
The bridge was made of concrete with micro-reinforced polypropylene and spans 40ft. The structure was inspired by the Architecture of Spanish Architect Antoni Gaudi.
As a first-of-its-kind structure, this bridge paved the way for the technologies that followed.
In October of 2018 Joris Laarman and MX3D Studio presented to the world the first 3D printed metal bridge. The structure, which was first shown at the Dutch Design Week event at Eindhoven Denmark, went on to win several awards in 2018. It remains the worlds shining example of the potential 3D printing has over construction.
The bridge is a modest sized pedestrian bridge with sinuous lines and an alien-like appearance. Supporters of this effort include major industry names like Arup, AutoDesk, and AirLiquide among others.
MX3D is entirely focused on 3D printing in metal, but many more are focused on 3D printing in concrete.
The Domino Building
A great example of how conventional large scale 3D printing is currently being used is the Domino Sugar Factory Building in New York City. The Domino Building was designed by COOKFOX and sits on the site where the Domino Sugar Factory once stood. The design of the façade is a brilliant but complex precast concrete in a random pattern designed to provide vertical and horizontal shading. The complexity of the shape and it’s randomness required revolutionary thinking and revolutionary techniques.
Gate Precast was engaged by COOKFOX in a design-assist to develop the technique which involved using a large scale 3D printer to create hundreds of forms for casting. The 3D printed forms took 16 hours to create on a large scale 3D plastic printer. According to Gate, creating the forms using conventional methods would have taken more than 40 manhours.
This is an example of how Architects are leveraging technology in creative new ways to create one-of-a-kind buildings.
Others to watch
With rivals from all corners of the world the market for 3D Printing technology is growing.
In the US, ICON construction (partnered with New Story) is using a printer they call Vulcan II to print an entire community in Latin America.
In a first ever competition to build technology for building structures on other plants Russian company Apis Cor, together with India based Architect Kapil Bhalla (founder of the Studio for Environment & Architecture (SE-Arch)) have won multiple rounds of competitions held by NASA.
There are many more examples of how 3D printing is being used around the world. This technology is definitely going to transform construction. Global leaders are investing in the technology and small innovators are expanding on what the technology can do. These companies are at the cutting edge poised to drive this technology forward.
What do you think? Is 3D Printing construction the wave of the future? Have you been involved in any of these projects? Tell me your stories.
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