3D Printed Architecture
xiaoliangge @ stock.adobe.com
3D printing has been around since the 1980s when Charles Hull developed the technique of stereolithography. Yet it was not until 2014 that we saw the first true 3D printed building, the BOD in the Netherlands. Since then, there has been a race to reach significant milestones: the first 3D printed office building, the first 3D printed two-storey house, the first 3D printed bridge, and even 3D printed rockets.
Large-scale industrial 3D printing can be used to build inexpensive houses anywhere in the world. Construction processes can become more sustainable by using raw materials with low embodied energy, such as recycled industrial waste or even plastics collected from the ocean. In cases of natural disasters, 3D-printed houses or shelters could be constructed quickly, thus becoming a great solution for emergency aid and disaster relief.
A building can also be completely customized to the needs of a particular site, even down to the internal structure, fixtures, and fittings. Different materials can be incorporated as the process goes along to form windows and doors, and material density can be varied to provide optimum combinations of strength, insulation, or other properties. Any needed wiring and plumbing can be inserted into the mold before the material is poured, providing a finished wall structure all at once. It can also incorporate data about the site collected during the process, using built-in sensors for temperature, light, and other parameters to make adjustments to the structure as it is built.
Technological Solutions Involved
Additive manufacturing combined with cloud computing brings flexibility, efficiency, and imagination to construction processes, enabling the quick construction of buildings from 3D CAD designs. Ambitious projects such as Dubai's Museum of the Future, NEOM in Saudi Arabia, and a proposed 3D-printed skyscraper in the UAE demonstrate how few limits there really are.
Using Digital Construction Platforms, hydraulic and electric robotic arms carried on a tracked mobile platform can be assembled in different configurations to create an infinite digital manufacturing system, capable of completing a build in 24 hours.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) can also be used with 3D printing to integrate and manage the design, planning, and construction phases and beyond, including operation, maintenance, scheduling, cost estimation, and progress tracking. This can achieve better building energy efficiency and better design, while also reducing costs.
COBOD design and assemble robotic 3D construction printers with the aim to automate the construction process. Innovative COBOD projects include the BOD (Building On-Demand), the first 3D printed building in Europe, and KAMP-C, the first two-storey 3D printed house in Europe. With GE, COBOD are co-developing optimized 3D printed concrete wind turbine bases which will enable increased renewable energy production.
Italian-based WASP (Worlds Advanced Saving Project) developed both the Crane WASP and the Big Delta Wasp, giant 3D printers able to erect whole houses out of site sourced materials, such as raw earth and waste from the production of grains. WASP also worked on TECLA, a new circular model of housing entirely created with reusable and recyclable materials collected from local or on-site soil.
A collaboration between tech start-up ICON and US non-profit New Story is seeking to combat global homelessness by creating the world’s first 3D printed neighborhood. A community of 50 3D printed homes is currently under construction in Tabasco, rural Mexico. Each 3D-printed home will have two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and bathroom. Each home can withstand hurricanes and are seismic-approved in case of an earthquake.
Opportunities & Challenges
One significant advantage is the decreased cost. The cost of printing elements of houses is much lower than traditional construction methods, while material transportation and onsite storage are also significantly reduced. By carrying out the most hazardous and dangerous jobs, 3D printers could reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on site while also reducing the amount of time required to complete the building.
There remains a concern that 3D printing technology may take jobs from qualified construction workers. As for software, a key issue will be to ensure the interoperability of applications used during the architectural design, structural analysis, and printing process.
Currently, 3D printing is being used to print rockets, and there are already plans to use 3D printing for colonies on Mars. A moon research base has been designed that would be 3D printed using lunar soil. If and when we ever migrate to another planet, the odds are high that 3D printing will be a primary construction tool. 3D printed architecture, therefore, represents not only the future of sustainable construction for this world but also beyond.