3D Printed Materials Emerging In The Construction Industry

By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting

A quick search on Google for information on 3D Printing in construction reveals the following headlines:

Building by the Numbers: How 3D Printing is shaking up the construction industry

Plans to build First 3D Printed Bridge

3D Printed Buildings

3D Printed Concrete Walls

The First commercially Produced 3D Printed Building

Construction that would be impossible with Brick and Mortar

Chinese Company Creates World’s Highest 3D Printed Construction

Will the World’s Next Megacity Drip out of a 3D Printer?

New MIT Robot can 3D Print a building in less than 14 hours

World’s First 3D Printed Apartment Building Constructed

3D Printing Pushes the Limits of Innovation

In simple terms, 3D printing can create three-dimensional objects in which layers of material are formed under computer control. Early versions of 3D printing were developed in the 1980s. Since then there have been many improvements made in the equipment, the speed of the process and the complexity of the objects.

The continuous improvement in 3D printing is responsible for the explosion in the number and type of applications. 3D printing is now used in the fashion industry, the medical industry, food, automotive, applications, the aerospace industry, and especially the building construction industry.

At last year’s Metalcon Expo and Conference in Baltimore, a house that was 3D printed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory was displayed. The house was the size of a FEMA structure, equipped with connections for electricity and water. Some attendees may have been confused why a non-metal structure was being featured at a trade show focused on the metal construction industry. But as the list of the Google headlines showed at the beginning of this article, the building construction industry is embracing many components and complete structures “built” using 3D printing. The metal construction industry will likely be affected by 3D printing somehow. Will metal, like most other construction materials compete with 3D printed alternatives?

Will polymer-based construction be better than metal in energy efficiency, resistance to moisture and air movement, or other aspects compared to metal buildings or components of metal building construction?

Other industries are already using 3D printing and not in the research phase but in their day-to-day business. For example, after a few years of testing some 3D printed items Caterpillar introduced 3D printed components into its supplier chain with no advertising of the migration.

At Northwestern University, scientists are working on extrusion-based 3D printing to expand the type of materials that can be used. Researchers there are also working on printing dissimilar materials at the same time which will help with complex objects. Many of the 3D printing processes include metal powders that are sintered together as an alternative process to metal extraction and manufacturing.

And if you think this technology is the greatest on the planet be prepared to see 3D printing technology beyond Earth. NASA has established the” 3d Printed Mars Habitat Design Challenge”. The focus of this competition is to showcase how to build structures on Mars before we even start to colonize the red planet. Cutting edge technology using robotics controlled from Earth and 3D printing is expected to be one concept. WOW!

Scott Kriner is the president and founder of Green Metal Consulting Inc. He is a LEED Accredited Professional who began his career in the metal construction industry in 1981. His company is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the California Association of Building Energy Consultants and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET).

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