3D printing is a new direction in the construction industry


The technology of printing volumetric products based on digital models appeared in the early 80s of the last century. Additive printing has improved significantly over the past few decades and is now used in all areas of human activity, including construction. With the help of 3D printers, building structures are created directly on the construction site, as well as individual structural elements are produced at the factory, and then assembled at the construction site.

For the first time, construction objects created using a 3D printer appeared in 2014. These were small architectural forms (benches, sculptures, fences), but for the construction of houses, the technology needed to be improved. Several years have passed and in 2016 the first fully printed building appeared – the «Office of the Future» in Dubai. The prospects of this direction were noted by experts, both in terms of construction time and financial costs, but there was no mass introduction of the technology.

Despite many innovative developments in the construction sector, it is still the most conservative branch of the economy. As many years ago, manual labor prevails in construction, and the level of automation is small.

Everything changed with the arrival of the pandemic, when the construction industry (as well as other sectors of the economy) were in deep crisis. A decrease in construction volumes, an increase in prices for building materials and an increase in the cost of labor required new approaches to increase production efficiency.

Today it has become clear that construction using 3D printing is faster, more profitable, and more environmentally friendly. This has led to an increase in financial investments in this area. Specialists in the analysis of the construction printing market predict a 99% increase in construction volumes in Western Europe and North America over the next 5 years.

What is a construction printer?

The construction 3D printer is a modified version of the classic FDM/FFF printer, which uses a liquid concrete mixture instead of plastic. In accordance with the three-dimensional model, layers of material are stacked one on top of the other, creating a complex structure.

Construction printers are available in several versions:

  • Portals with a flying boom. The unit consists of a frame, three portals and a printhead. The equipment is used to print the building as a whole or in parts.
  • Delta printers. With their help, you can not only reproduce three-dimensional models, but also create more complex objects. For free movement, the print head is attached to the vertical guides using levers.
  • A printer with a robot arm through which the concrete mixture is fed. It is a design similar to an industrial manipulator, which is equipped with an extruder and controlled by a computer program.

Advantages of 3D houses

With the help of construction printers, only walls are created, and the rest of the filling of the building – the foundation, windows, doors and roof are still erected in the traditional way.

  • The walls are built using the technology of non-removable formwork, which significantly saves construction time and the amount of concrete mix used.
  • Any thermal insulation material can be placed inside the wall structure.
  • The total size of the building is small, so a massive foundation is not required.
  • There is significantly less construction debris on the construction site.
  • Printed walls can be reinforced, and engineering communications can be laid inside.
  • Construction printing allows you to build a building of the most unusual shape and design, minimizes human errors during construction and increases its safety.

The use of construction printers reduces CO2 emissions, which reduces harm to the environment. And in the case of using biobetone, active development of which is currently underway, printed walls will become completely eco-friendly.

If the construction of buildings using 3D printers has not yet become a widespread practice in the world, then the printing of wall panels or three-dimensional structures in factory conditions is already actively underway.

Experts have estimated that construction printers provide 30% savings in the construction of walls and reduce the overall construction budget by 10%. And if we take into account the environmental friendliness and fast construction time, the advantages of construction printers are obvious.

Disadvantages of using construction printers

Despite the many advantages, the technology has some disadvantages. First of all, it is a layered type of printed walls. The problem is solved by finishing. The walls can be plastered and painted or decorated with facing material. In some cases, this flaw can be turned into a stylish decorative element. To make the walls absolutely smooth, they can be sanded, but this will require a lot of time and effort.

Another disadvantage is the temperature regime during production and construction. You can work with construction printers at a temperature of 5-30C. If this can be easily done in the conditions of the production shop, then it will not be easy to ensure optimal temperature at the construction site in winter.

Of course, construction printers are the future. But there are a number of restrictions for their use. Design principles, building codes and standards still need to be finalized. Qualified specialists are also required both to create 3D house projects and to carry out construction work. Given the severity of the housing problem in the world and significant real estate prices, technology that reduces construction costs will be in demand.

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