3D Printing: Disrupting the Construction Industry

Building a more sustainable future with 3D printing

3D print technology has transformed the way that almost anything can be made. This has disrupted manufacturing and production, enabling prototypes to be built within minutes using a variety of printing materials to create and test products from food to fashion.

Bioprinting is beginning to enhance healthcare, supplying 3D printed body parts to patients. The rapid production of these products is helping to navigate the demands of a growing population. One industry in particular which has felt the strain of demographic growth is construction. Luckily, 3D printing has provided a solution. . .

1. WinSun Global

Perhaps the most well-known 3D printing construction firm is WinSun Global, based in China. They first revealed their plans to build 3D printed houses in 2014. The company uses a 22-foot tall industrial 3D printer to create houses in under 24 hours. Their first constructions were modest, apartment-sized spaces built by combining separate rooms. Since then, Winsun has branched out to take on much bigger projects, the most notable of which includes a six-story apartment block and Dubai’s ‘Office of the Future’. Winsun is committed to taking an eco-friendly approach to the printing process, combining cement with construction waste to make the most of available materials.

2. Qingdao Unique Products Develop Co.

Qingdao Unique Products Develop Co. is another Chinese construction company that uses 3D print technologies to create buildings. Set up in 2001, they’ve been around much longer than Winsun. In 2014, the company revealed the world’s biggest ever 3D printer, stating that they would use it to build housing. Their printer is so large that it can print entire structures in one job, rather than creating and then combining components. One of the firm’s goals is to use the technology in reconstruction after destruction caused by disasters such as earthquakes, which often affect China.

3. Skanska

Skanska is a UK contracting company which partnered with the University of Loughborough in 2014 to explore concrete 3D printing. Loughborough University has been researching the application of 3D print technology in construction for almost a decade, and helped Skanska to develop the world’s first commercial 3D printing robot. The printing process combines layer upon layer of concrete to build complicated architectural designs that can’t be achieved by conventional methods. The company’s long-term goal is to set up a 3D printing supply chain to deliver unrivalled quality.

4. WASP

WASP stands for World’s Advanced Saving Project, and is an Italian firm established in 2012 which sells Delta 3D printers. Their main objective is to create a printer big enough to print entire houses. WASP was the first company to create 3D printers for use in ceramics, and have also successfully printed wooden, clay, straw and aluminium products. Like Winsun, they are enthusiastic about reducing waste and finding renewable materials. WASP wants to encourage the construction of ‘zero-mile’ homes that are 3D printed using materials sourced from the local area. This is contributing to changing attitudes towards the industry.

5. MX3D

MX3D is a Dutch company that describes itself as ‘printing outside the box’. This is literally true, as by using an advanced six-axis industrial robot they can print structures in mid-air. In order to do this, the firm took a commercially available robot and added an advanced welding machine. They then used in-house software to program the robot to carry out projects. Whilst many of the innovative companies in construction look to create housing, MX3D focuses on non-residential projects. Currently, the company is building a 3D printed bridge in Amsterdam using sustainable metal. As well as showcasing what MX3D can do with their technology, the completion of the project will bring 3D print construction into the public eye.

6. Apis Cor

Apis Cor is a Russian company that wants to improve the living conditions of people around the world through smart machines. The company describes traditional construction as ‘sluggish’, and has developed a mobile 3D printer to print houses that can supposedly last for 175 years. They hire out the printer to construction companies, saving their clients the hassle of sourcing tools, labour and reducing wasted materials. Apis Cor plans to operate in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, Australia and even Antarctica. This sounds ambitious in itself, but the firm is already considering 3D printing possibilities in space. . .

The companies outlined here have realised the potential for 3D printing within the construction industry, and are successfully using innovation to improve building processes for faster and more accurate creation of structures. This is a worth-while endeavour in a world where the global population is continually expanding – all of those people will need somewhere to live. Winsun and WASP are particularly interested in changing the construction industry, streamlining building projects and making them as eco-friendly as possible. In addition, the geographic variety of these companies represents a worldwide movement towards accepting innovation. In short, the U.S. isn’t the only player in the game. Looking forward, the European Space Agency has teamed up with Foster and Partners to explore the possibility of creating 3D printed structures on the moon, and Apis Cor has already set its sights on Mars.

This is very exciting, but perhaps development should focus on our planet first?