When you think of 3D printing, you probably think of printers that use thin plastic filament to make small statues and other objects one layer at a time. While impressive, you probably don’t think it’s anything that will have a major impact on your work, right? If so, you might want to think again.
There’s a lot more to 3D printing than desktop 3D printers – the 3D printing revolution is poised to have a major impact on construction in the future. The 3D printing age could very well revolutionize the construction industry in a number of ways, from the tools you use to the very way that buildings are constructed.
What is 3D Printing?
There’s plenty of confusion as to what 3D printing actually is, due in part to the fact that there’s more than one type. The most well-known type is what’s known as “additive manufacturing”, in which one layer of a printing material Is put down and then another is put on top of it. This is followed by additional layers until the print is finished.
This is most commonly done using melted plastics, but 3D printers exist that use this method to make ceramics, rubber products and even foods such as chocolate, potatoes and pancakes.
There are other types of 3D printing out there, though, such as “laser sinistering” which uses a laser beam to melt together bits of powdered metal or wood to create solid objects. Similar methods can also be used with liquids such as uncured resin as well. Regardless of the method used, however, the end result is the same:
A solid three-dimensional object was created out of raw materials based on a computer-generated image.
One use of 3D printing that could be big in the future is the creation of custom tools for specific jobs. This isn’t necessarily referring to things like wrenches and screwdrivers, although there are 3D printing templates for most common tools.
Instead, this is referring to job-specific tools or custom-designed tools that make dealing with certain materials easier. With 3D printing, you can design exactly what you need for the job and make it beforehand without having to worry that there aren’t any commercially available tools that meet your needs.
As with 3D-printed tools, you can create your own 3D-printed parts for use on the job. This is already being done by major companies, with 3D printing revolutionizing the way that complex components such as jet engine parts are made.
Custom-fabricated pieces can be as simple or complex as you want, ranging from braces to connect boards to devices with unique, movable components that wouldn’t be possible through traditional manufacturing methods.
3D Printing Equipment
Next year, the world’s first 3D-printed excavator will make its debut at the CONEXPO-CON/AGG and IFPE (International Fluid Power Exposition) trade show in Las Vegas. This is a major step forward in equipment manufacturing, since it can potentially streamline the process of building equipment and may introduce options that weren’t available previously.
This is only the beginning. As manufacturing technology adapts to 3D printing, you’ll start seeing more and more tools and equipment that have 3D-printed components or that are completely 3D printed. Widespread adoption of the technology will also bring the cost of 3D printing down, creating even more options as it becomes more cost-effective for manufacturers to incorporate 3D printers into their lines.
In Dubai, United Arab Emirates, they have successfully 3D printed an office building. This first building was made with reinforced concrete, glass-fiber-reinforced gypsum and fiber-reinforced plastic. Everything inside of it (including the furniture) was also 3D printed. It took a total of 17 days from start to finish and was only the first step toward Dubai’s goal of 3D printing 25% of all construction by 2030.
This isn’t the only time that 3D printing has been considered for construction, either. There are similar projects underway in other parts of the world – the ability to 3D print full structures could revolutionize the way housing is built during relief efforts in third-world countries.
There’s even been talk of 3D-printed buildings playing a part in establishing a permanent base on Mars in the future. Engineers and architects from around the world will likely look to the project in Dubai for inspiration as they come up with new ways to incorporate 3D printing into their work in the future.
Preparing for the Future
Like it or not, 3D printing is going to have a big impact on the construction industry in the future. Some of its effects may not be as noticeable since they affect how the equipment you buy is made, but things will change all the same.
At the very least it’s worth finding out more about 3D printing and its uses in construction. Even if you don’t buy a 3D printer for your shop, staying on top of the available technologies will make sure that you’re not blindsided by new materials or changes in the sort of competition you face when 3D printing becomes mainstream.