The supposedly revolutionary implications of 3D printing in construction have been discussed for several years now but as technology advances, it is finally starting to look as if it has genuine usefulness in the real world.
Here are five examples of recent construction projects where 3D printing has been employed successfully:
1) MX3D’s 3D-printed pedestrian bridge
Technology start-up MX3D has 3D-printed the structure of a 12m-long steel pedestrian bridge, which is set to span Oudezijds Achterburgwal, in Amsterdam’s red light district. Robots were used to "draw" the structure, which is four metres wide, from layers of molten steel. The bridge is undergoing full load tests by Arup, lead structural engineer, and researched from Imperial College London ahead of its installation, planned for October this year in time for Dutch Design Week. The bridge will be equipped with a sensor network, allowing the partners to gather data which will be used to build a ‘digital twin’. This digital twin will be used to develop a new design language for the MX3D technique.
2) Europe’s first in-situ 3D-printed house
A family in France has become the first in the world to move into a 3D-printed house. The four-bedroom property is a prototype for bigger projects. The building in Nantes took 54 hours to print although it took four more months for contractors to add in windows, doors and the roof. The project team was led by French contractor Bouygues and the University of Nantes.
After the foundations and ground floor were constructed, the team used a laser-guided BatiPrint 3D robot to extrude two walls of polyurethane foam which then hardens to provide the formwork for a layer of concrete. The system can reportedly create curved as well as rectilinear forms. The house has been fitted with sensors to monitor air quality, humidity and temperature, as well as equipment to evaluate its thermal properties. It cost £176,000 to build, which its manufacturers claim makes it 20% cheaper than a traditionally constructed house.
3) The world’s first 3D-printed office
Two years ago, the world’s first 3D-printed office was unveiled in Dubai. The 250 sq m office was printed and installed over 17 days with the help of 18 people. The building was installed on the premises of the Emirates Towers and the printer extruded a mixture of cement and other materials designed and made in the UAE and the US, printed layer by layer. It cost around £95,000 to print, after which interior and exterior design details were added.
4) The house built in 24 hours
Building printing company Apis Cor last year built a 38 sq m single storey house in Russia within 24 hours on site using a mobile printer. Self-bearing walls, partitions and the building envelope were all printed in less than a day, with the pure machine time amounting to 24 hours. After printing, the printer was removed with a crane. The company said the main purpose of the project was to demonstrate the flexibility of its equipment and the diversity of forms and shapes available. The house was built in the Russian winter, adding to the complexity of the project because the concrete mixture employed can only be used at 5C or above, although Apis Cor hopes that using new materials such as geopolymer will allow construction at any time of year.
The company promises another construction innovation is coming soon:
5) The world’s first habitable concrete 3D-printed homes
A consortium in Holland aims to build the world’s first 3D concrete printed homes for habitation, as part of what is being called Project Milestone. The project, involving the University of Eindhoven and Dutch construction firm Van Wijnen, was announced earlier this year. It will see five houses put on the rental market next year in the city of Eindhoven. The cement will be printed according to an architect’s design without moulds, layer by layer, to create the interior and exterior walls. The homes are expected to comprise three floors and three bedrooms.