3D Printing and the Built Environment

The design and construction industry has come a long way since the days of paper drawing and hand written construction plans. Thanks to our ever-evolving technologies, we have figured out how to draw plans on the computer and print them for contractors. More recently, designers have access to programs that produce designs in the third dimension. So naturally, the newest technology to hit the market for the construction industry has been 3D printers.

3D printing first began in 1986 with Charles Hull, who applied for a patent for his stereolithography apparatus. He then went on to co-found 3D Systems Corporation, which is still around today and is one of the largest 3D printing companies in the world. Today, the market for 3D printing is estimated to be worth over $3.5 billion.

Many of the companies in this market are capitalizing on the benefits 3D printing has brought to the construction industry, such as decreased labor costs, less material waste and shorter construction periods. There are even a few companies that claim they have the technology to 3D print entire buildings at once. For example, WinSun, a China based company, claims to have printed 10 houses in 24 hours. They have also printed a 5 story apartment building, which was done using a printer that is 20 by 33 by 132 feet. In the United States, a professor at the University of Southern California has developed a printer that consists of a nozzle on a gantry and sprays out concrete based on a computer generated pattern. He believes his printer could produce a house in just one day.

3D printing is also creating new market potential in areas where building projects were not previously possible – outer space. Before 3D printing, man-made construction projects were too risky and expensive to perform in space. Currently, the European Space Agency is exploring the idea of printing bases on the moon using lunar regolith raw materials, which means only 10% of the building materials would actually have to be transported from earth.

As the 3D printing business continues to grow, it will inevitably revolutionize the design and construction industry in ways that were previously unimaginable. From more affordable housing options to lunar construction projects, 3D printing will certainly leave its mark on the built environment.

Photo taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing 

5 thoughts on “3D Printing and the Built Environment”

  1. Thanks for that link, Tim. Amazing!

    I’m keenly interested in the 3D printing process for solar cells. There’s a group called the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium which has developed printable solar panels. They even use something they call ‘solar ink’ which can be transparent enough to use as window film! They think they will be able to print cells directly onto surfaces they want to power – like rooftops. This could be such an advance over the ugly industrial-looking panels whose manufacture has been an environmental disaster in China.
    See more at this vid:

  2. Neat! I’m really excited for the possibilities that solar and 3D printing can offer. Particularly in the areas of desalinization (due to an excess of free, renewable power, some distance in the future) and perfectly integrated building design.

    By the latter, since 3D printing is able to so well integrate any shape and is rapidly acquiring an entire repertoire of materials to utilize, we will eventually be able to produce a completely integrated, perfectly coordinated house. Lightweight walls, with built-in insulating properties based solely on the printed geometry, plumbing running through the walls, electrical wires printed in place, insulated by printed material. Shapes only limited by imagination. Structure not dictated by beams and columns.

    If you haven’t seen Digital Grotesque yet, you should give it a look.

    http://www.digital-grotesque.com

    And that’s just the

  3. Well THAT’s appropriately named! (your link)

    How is digital being considered in desalination? Major construction – plant components? Or the finicky membranes?

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