Rick Rundell, senior director at Autodesk, design, and engineering software company that serves engineers, architects, and contractors, describes 3D printing as a modern update of some of the oldest building technologies there are. Prehistoric humans made homes from mud, adobe, cob and other such materials, developing one layer at a time. Like contemporary 3D printing, these structures were strong, cheap and efficient with resources.
As in ancient times, this reintroduction of the technique is spreading around the world.
While 3D printing is rapidly upscaling across the globe, with growth in this space in China, Dubai Italy, Russia, and Texas, experts are predicting a disruption of the $10 trillion global construction market. However, this yet nascent technology could wind up a novelty like the geodisic dome.
However, factors such as saved energy, time and materials are going in this technology’s favor. While complete structures have been 3D printed, additive manufacturing, such as prefabricated jail cells or hospital rooms, could supplement structures from the world’s top to lowest income classes.
Architects from all over the world have found a place for 3D printing technology. For example, Massimiliano Locatelli, founder of architecture firm CLS Architetti in Milan, has recently completed a 1,100-square-foot, single-family dwelling using 3D printing. It should be unveiled on April 15. CyBe, which makes portable concrete 3D printers, as well as Arup.
The 3D printer for buildings is like a desktop printer writ large, a robotic arm deposits material a layer at a time until the structure emerges. It’s not just the practical aspects Locatelli loves. He loves the look of the buildings, layered like cakes or exposed sedimentary rock. He looks forward to how 3D printing will change retail spaces in bigger structures.
Meanwhile, Lisselot Tronconis looks forward to using 3D printed buildings to build more houses for the slums of El Salvador in an effort to provide shelter to some of the world’s poorest people. Tronconis is involved in two charitable works. She is the executive director of People Helping People of El Salvador and the program manager for El Salvador’s New Story. New Story has partnered with Icon, a 3D printer construction workshop based in Austin, Texas. New Story has built 800 homes all over the world using traditional methods, including 200 in Nicaragua.
While concrete is the most common material for such work, it is far from the only one used. In March, MX3D, based out of Amsterdam, printed a stainless-steel pedestrian bridge. It was printed from one side to the other with a millimeter-thick molten blob. It took four industrial robots 11 months to complete the project.