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  • Writer's pictureMerlo Construction


3D printing technology has been steadily advancing over the last decade. Also called additive manufacturing, it is now being harnessed and developed specifically for use within the construction industry. Perhaps you are wondering how construction printing services could be utilized in your next project. Here you will find an overview of 3D printing in the construction industry, its advantages and an idea of how it is being currently being used.

Advantages of 3D printing for construction

3D printing is an excellent match with the construction industry. Some of the exciting reasons why 3D printing is so attractive include: dramatically reduced construction time, less labor required, reduced waste and overall cost savings. Additionally, there is potential for innovative new designs, more energy efficient and sustainable material uses, and full integration with BIM modeling.

Typical construction printing of a building

When we talk about using additive manufacturing to construct buildings, we are generally only talking about printing the walls. Gaps are left for windows and doors to be installed afterward, along with other building elements like plumbing and electrical services. Walls are built up layer by layer and exhibit a distinctive striated pattern. At the moment floors and roofs are not being 3D printed, though some companies are working towards solutions for this.

Challenges of 3D printing a building

Most printers are either gantry rigs or those that rotate from a central point to effectively build around themselves. Printers designed for onsite construction and for offsite construction have been developed, but the systems are still costly and can be complex to move. Additive manufacturing for construction mostly uses concrete, and many of the mixes have been formulated to incorporate some level of recycled material. The concrete mix needs to achieve a good balance between printability, durability, and performance. It must flow evenly through the machine and dry quick enough to support the layered style of construction, but also last and meet standards for being functional as a building material.

Concrete Barracks Printed by the Marines in August 2018

In just 40 hours the US Marine Corps recently printed a 500 square foot barracks structure on site in Illinois. This exploratory exercise was completed using a 3D model running on a 10-year-old computer, a 3D printer and some concrete. The Additive Manufacturing Team accomplished a world first: using a large concrete printer to construct a building for the first time on site and all at once. If robots instead of marines were used to mix the concrete and fill the printer, then it is thought the time would be reduced to around one day. It is a technique the Marines are keen to develop further, considering its potential for use as Marine shelters, as well as in disaster relief situations.

3D printing for construction in the future

Additive manufacturing is moving beyond the prototype stage and starting to be used in more real-world projects. However, right now there are still only a handful of 3D printed buildings in the world. There is an office building in Dubai constructed from 3D printed sections printed in China. It is owned by the Dubai Future Foundation, who is also leading a mission to see 25% of every new building in Dubai 3D printed by 2025. In the Netherlands, a hotel/office has been constructed called the Building on Demand (BOD). It is the first occupied 3D printed building in Europe and meets the strict European Building codes. Completed in November 2017, the company responsible has been very open about its successes and the delays. They caution that wild claims of extremely quick builds and fast, widespread adoption of 3D printing in construction should be dialed back to a more realistic level. Nonetheless, there is still huge potential for the application of construction printing technologies for increasingly ambitious building projects. Merlo Construction will be at the forefront of providing construction printing services in Farmington Hills, MI.

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