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3D printing technology has experienced drastic improvements in recent years and several sectors are trying to take advantage. McKinsey research suggests that 3D printing will make an impact of up to $550 billion by the year 2025. It is being hailed as a disruptive technology that can impact many sectors including aerospace, medicine, manufacturing, and construction.
A recent study by Deloitte identified 3D printing as a technology that will have greater impact on the world over the next 20 years than every other innovation since the industrial revolution. The latter is bound to have a considerable influence on all industries, including construction. The construction industry is a significant component of global GDP, currently comprising approximately 5 percent of global GDP. Global construction output was US$8.8 trillion in 2016 and is expected to stand at US$10.1 trillion in 2021. Due to the massive potential in the industry, tech companies built extremely large 3D printers that can use concrete-like materials to fabricate large structural components and even entire buildings.
Global Adoption of 3D Printing in Construction
In recent years construction companies and national governments have created larger, more ambitious 3D printed structures. Chinese company WinSun printed structural components in 2015 that were assembled into full-scale structures. They are said to have built 10 3D-printed houses in 24 hours. In May 2016, Dubai assembled the world’s first 3D printed office termed as “Office of the Future”. Dubai is also the first city in the world to launch a 3D printing strategy termed “Dubai 3D Printing Strategy”. The strategy aims to promote Dubai as a leading hub of 3D printing technology by the year 2030 and commits the Emirates to the use of 3D printing in 25% of its buildings by 2030. In line with that vision, Dubai-based start-up Cazza has shared its plans to build the world’s first 3D-printed skyscraper by 2023.
Financial Impact of 3D Printing in Construction
3D printing has the potential to save money for the construction industry. Data suggests that on average, the material wastage of conventional construction is approximately 20 to 25 percent. This wastage adds to the final cost of the project. 3D printing allows companies to decrease the amount of materials needed, thereby reducing waste. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that this new method of construction can cut down material needs by as much as 90 percent. Not only does this lead to direct savings on material costs, it also eliminates costs associated with disposing of material waste.
Faster construction is one of the most immediate advantages of 3D printing. Walls can be erected 5 to 10 times faster when using a 3D printer. China based 3D printing construction company, WinSun proved how efficient this is even when printing offsite by assembling 10 houses in a day. The costs are kept low with a 200 square meter house costing only $4,800. The company also revealed that 3D printing reduces labour costs by 50% to 80% percent.
3D printed construction is also significantly more environment-friendly as the raw material typically consists of recycled products including recycled plastics, polymers and composites. Most materials used in 3D printing can be easily repurposed once the product is no longer needed. Construction companies can therefore reuse 3D-printed products as opposed to disposing of them in a landfill.
Although a great deal of research about 3D printing in construction is still being carried out, the concept has proven to be successful. It has the potential to decrease waste, reduce costs, increase production efficiency and have a positive environmental impact. As the construction industry experiences its greatest disruption, existing construction companies who make use of this technology can drastically improve their bottom line.