Not too long ago, 3D printing, the creation of a 3D object from a digital file, felt like the stuff of the future. When 3D printing was first talked about, we had lofty expectations for how the average consumer might benefit. Could we print out our dinner one day? How about the fork used to eat that dinner? If that dinner, and many others, clogged an artery, would our doctor print us a new one? Construction firms and architects have taken a different perspective entirely, however.

Where 3D printing was once applied to only creating small scale projects, many professionals now seek to introduce 3D printing to larger scale projects as a construction technology for complex components or even constructing entire buildings.

Benefits Benefits of 3D printing technology for the construction industry include less waste. A precise 3D print will have less scrap than other methods of construction. Any scrap that is produced can be recycled. The material that is used for all 3D printing can, in fact, be recycled products. This green benefit can boost construction firms into Green Building Standards for more sustainable construction. The labor costs for a project would be lower as the 3D printer could take on the tasks of several workers with minimal supervision. This is turn could create a safer environment on the jobsite because some of the most dangerous jobs could be taken on by 3D printers. Fast and accurate project execution could be gained through the use of 3D printing for complex components of a construction project and entire building projects alike. With 3D printing, the digital file or model is transformed directly into a physical execution. That leaves fewer steps for error, including human error. Any problems in the physical model would be directly linked to the digital file in most cases.

The Flip Side Some of the benefits covered above have direct disadvantages associated with them. First and foremost, the 3D printer taking the work of humans and reducing the employee numbers in the industry is a disadvantage. 3D printers are feared to be one of the machines that take the job of a person, and this could be true in the construction industry. Conventional product manufacturing companies and their employees could also suffer if the construction industry no longer has a high demand for their product. As discussed earlier, 3D printers can only use specific materials, some of which can be recycled. This limits the number of projects a 3D printer would be able to complete on its own in its entirety. Not every construction job is able to be done with only these few materials structurally and aesthetically. Although projects can be completely quickly, if they are not completely accurately it can have huge ramifications for the project. Issues that can arise because of these errors can be unsoundness, lost time, and the loss of the investment in the first faulty rendering. Storage and transportation of a 3D printer would need to be sorted out with special care. These printers are large and expensive. The printer would likely be stored on-site, but it cannot be stored the same as conventional construction site tools and machinery.

Looking Forward As with all technology in the construction industry, the 3D printer will be refined and creatively used when it is possible to do so. Being creative on what materials are used in the 3D printer can open up wider possibilities for the types of construction projects a 3D printer could be used for. The creation of larger 3D printers or modified 3D printers will also create more possibilities. Sheer scale could hold back some projects while hesitation on the investment could hold back others.