Way back in the early 2000s, researchers began to experiment with 3D printed housing. While the idea was exciting, the technology at the time was lacking. Where is that technology today? Is construction 3D printing being used and developed? Yes! In fact, in 2022 3D printing has recently been resurrected as the future of the construction industry.
What Does the Current Technology Look Like?
The early 3D printing technology was fairly primitive. Using basic materials like a sand and cement mixture, the form and feasibility was limited.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of research into improving construction 3D printing materials and methods. Some of the ideas being researched lately include:
- A new polymer that strengthens silica sand. This new polyethyleneimine binder was tested on a 3D printed sand bridge. Using this new binder, the bridge can carry 300 times its own weight. This is like stacking 12 Empire State Buildings on the Brooklyn Bridge.
- The addition of an off-the-shelf bioplastic to create 3D printed buildings that could be protected from impact damage. The bioplastic has been used in memory foam pillows and running shoes. This bioplastic mimics auxetic materials, which expand or contract in all directions instead of flattening or bulging on impact.
- The development of flawless metal 3D printing. Metal 3D printing allows builders to create intricate shapes and has high functionality, but the necessary addition of alloys can make the finish nonuniform and full of defects. By fine-tuning the microstructure of alloys, researchers were able to create a finish that is smooth and defect free.
Is Construction 3D Printing Actually Being Implemented?
It’s easy to think of 3D printing housing as still a dream. After all, the vast majority of housing is still being built using traditional methods. Is anyone using 3D printing? Not only is it being used more, but it is being called a gamechanger for the construction industry.
Advocates for 3D printed housing are particularly excited for its ability to create affordable housing. Habitat for Humanity in particular has turned to 3D printing to build affordable housing around the nation.
Habitat for Humanity estimates that 3D printing currently saves them 15 percent while building houses for low-income communities. This is largely thanks to the lack of manual labor. As the technology improves and materials like wood become more expensive, this cost savings could dramatically increase.
It also allows them to build the homes much faster. The 3D printing company SQ4D, one of the first construction companies that builds 3D printed homes, estimates that using their 3D printing machines 40% of the work is done in under six months. Using traditional materials and methods, this same progress could take double that time.
Thanks to many of these advantages, we should see 3D printed homes increase in number. In Austin Texas, ground was just broken on the world’s largest 3D printed neighborhood. The project of 100 homes, is going to go at an astronomical speed. Each house is estimated to take one week from start to finish.