3D printing has been a big buzz term over the past decade. Initially, it was developed for product prototyping purposes, today however, the technology has advanced to offer big promises to a variety of industries, including construction. 3D printers are now capable of printing building walls and processing cement and ultimately, the technology is helping to reshape construction as we know it.
The benefits of 3D printing in construction
Many are wondering why 3D printing is gaining so much buzz in the construction sector. For once, the industry is facing increasing pressure to meet tight schedules and budgets, hence, companies are looking to new innovations to help fill the gaps. 3D printing in construction offers a significant potential to increase efficiency in the building sector in several different ways: speed, waste reduction, design freedom, and the reduction of human error.
3D printing can construct a building from the ground up in a matter of days. When you compare that to conventional construction, which can take months and years to fully construct a commercial building, 3D printing can save about 60% of the time on the jobsite and 80% in labor.
Worldwide construction waste currently totals more than 1 billion tons each year, a number that is expected to double in the near future. Though 3D printing is far from solving all of the construction waste problems, it can definitely help. Why? Because 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that only uses as much material as is necessary for creating a structure. Pair this with other waste-reducing processes and building methods like prefabrication and lean construction, and the potential of a zero-waste building seems to be likely.
3D printing homes for the homeless
Across the globe, there are more than a billion people living without safe shelter. To make a difference, construction companies must build differently. Building 3D printed homes is faster, and has the potential for higher quality, more affordable homes than the current industry standard.
Today, Austin, Texas has several 3-D printed houses built by ICON, an Austin-based construction technologies company dedicated to revolutionizing homebuilding and making dignified housing the standard for people throughout the world. Using proprietary 3D printing robotics, software and advanced materials, ICON is solving a plurality of problems in the contemporary building industry with their breakthrough technologies. The technology can build cheap, climate-resilient structures in a fraction of the time of traditional construction.
In 2019, ICON produced seven houses at Community First! Village in Austin to provide for those who were formerly homeless. The houses are made from ICON's cement-based material Lavacrete, which is designed to withstand extreme weather conditions and is also mold-resistant. The company used its own 3D-printer, The Vulcan, named for the Roman god of fire and volcanoes. Alex Le Roux, a founder of ICON, is also the mastermind behind the Vulcan, a nearly 12-foot-tall 3D printer that can make a concrete house in 24 hours for up to 30% cheaper. The Vulcan was used to build America’s first permitted compliant 3D-printed home in 2018.
According to ICON, their 3D printed houses “provide safer, more resilient homes that are designed to withstand fire, flood, wind, and other natural disasters better than conventionally built homes."
It takes about five to seven days to print a house. ICON claims that The Vulcan can print Lavacrete more accurately and at a higher speed than manual labor, making the houses more cost-effective and well built.
Then, there is the house made of “3D-printed earth”; to be more precise, made from 60 cubic meters of clay, printed 350 layers high, in just 200 hours. It’s an eco-friendly 3D-printed house, known as a TECLA and provides natural stability and thermal insulation. That house stands near Bologna, Italy and was designed by Mario Cucinella Architects and built by WASP, an Italian 3D-printing specialist. This collaboration set out to create affordable, low-carbon housing that can be built anywhere. Local soil was used, which meant that no materials had to be transported to the site. The construction process used very little energy and generated no waste. The architects merged ancient building techniques with modern technology.
Currently, the construction sector produces approximately 38% of global CO2 emissions. In order for the sector to be on track for net-zero buildings by 2050, it must halve its emissions by 2030.
With real estate being an increasingly important sector in our investment universe, we clearly welcome this merger between technology and real estate, combined with a sustainability angle. So is 3D printing going to disrupt the construction industry? We believe it already has.
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