3D Printing - What's it all About and is it Coming to the Construction Industry?

3D Printing - What's it all About and is it Coming to the Construction Industry?

13th April 2015

We like to keep up to date with what’s going on here at Safety Fabrications, it’s a great way of offering our readers all the latest news in the sector while keeping ourselves up to speed with new developments too.  In recent years one of the most exciting new technologies to make an appearance is 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing due to the fact that an additive process is used to build up successive layers of material.  3D printing is an innovative new technology that seems to have gathered momentum in recent years as table top 3D printers have become available to the general market. 

Monetising the 3D printing process has been surprisingly easy, especially now that we’re living in the Digital Age of instant communications.  One of the most interesting way of making 3D printing available to the masses is Shapeways, a Dutch founded 3D printing marketplace where users can design and upload 3D printable files and then sell the printed objects to others.  Not surprisingly, there’s been an awful lot of non-functional items 3D printed as people learn just how cool this new way of manufacturing is – all types of ornaments that serve no particular purpose other than that they have been 3D printed and you can let all your friends know that.

However, as other industries have realised what a great opportunity 3D printing is, the technology has started being used in the medical industry (replacement bone parts, innovative casts for healing bones, and now 3D printed skin) where it really can make a huge difference.  Not surprisingly, 3D printing is also coming to the construction industry and it’s being described as the “third industrial revolution” by pundits.  Oxfam has already begun to use 3D printing to replace fittings and parts for taps and British sanitation kits in Lebanon to avoid shipping these components.  Oxfam is also looking into the potential to use 3D printing to construct emergency shelters which would be a great way of providing housing – a 3D printer can be shipped to a disaster area and deployed to manufacture temporary accommodation using the materials on site.

Taking things even further, a Chinese company, WinSun 3D printed 10 houses in just 24 hours last year using a mixture of ground construction and industrial waste (such as glass and tailings) around a base of quick drying cement mixed with a hardening agent.  Hot on the heels of this success, the company has now built a five storey apartment building and a 1.100 square metre villa which is on display at Suzhou Industrial Park.  The parts are fabricated in a factory and assembled on site, adding steel reinforcements and insulation in order to comply with official buildings standards. 

Although 3D printing may seem like a think of the future, a process more suited to the decks of Starship Enterprise, make no mistake – the technology is developing at a rate of knots and before very long, 3D printers will be opening stores at a High Street near you.  Next week, we’ll take a look at just what this interesting new process is likely to mean for the construction industry in the not too distant future.