3D print

Construction 3D printing

Using a 3D printer to print construction structures layer-by-layer. To demonstrate the technology, researchers and entrepreneurs have off-site printed bridges in metal, concrete or polymer, and entire buildings in concrete or clay on-site.

Construction 3D printing is a method for manufacturing construction elements or entire buildings by means of a 3D printer printing concrete, polymer, metal, or other materials, layer-by-layer. The most common type of printer is based on a robotic arm that moves back and forth while extruding concrete. Other methods for 3D printing include powder binding and additive welding. Powder binding is 3D printing within a basin of powder, solidifying powder layer-by-layer to create the desired object. Additive welding has been demonstrated by printing a full-scale, functioning metal bridge in Amsterdam.

Benefits and challenges

  • Faster construction
  • Lower labour cost
  • Fewer people means more safe construction
  • Less material used
  • New designs are possible as the 3D printer can create complex surfaces
  • The method and resulting physical properties of the printed construction elements are not yet recognized by building standards

Application examples

Within the last 5 years, several development projects have demonstrated the feasibility of using concrete and construction 3D printing technologies to produce buildings. In 2014, Chinese WinSun pioneered as they built several homes using 3D printing technology to manufacture elements off-site. In 2017, ApisCor where the first to 3D print an entire home on-site in Russia. In 2019, 3D Printhuset produced the first European on-site 3D printed house in Copenhagen (The BOD), using concrete and a 3D printer with a robotic arm (3dprinthuset.dk).

Furthermore, companies have experimented with 3D printing bridges. In 2017, Royal BAM group and researchers from TU Eindhoven installed the world’s first concrete 3D printed bridge in the Netherlands (nltimes.nl). In 2018, MX3D finished the production of the first 3D printed metal bridge, which is now being tested in Amsterdam. 

FreeFAB is a patented technology developed by Laing O’Rourke, where wax is used as a mold for the concrete. Afterwards the wax is melted off or crushed, hereby revealing the concrete surface. The technology is used commercially on the Crossrail project (freefab.com).

The technology may be useful for constructing structures by using the materials available on-site. In 2018, WASP demonstrated a 3D printed house which used food waste like rice straw and husk, mixed with clay earth as a construction material. This technology may be useful in developing countries and disaster areas. NASA is developing 3D printers to be used on Mars using the available materials for construction (www.iflscience.com).

Development stage

Large construction companies like Royal BAM, Boeygues Construction, Vinci, Skanska all collaborate with universities or start-ups to further develop this technology.

Construction impact

Construction 3D printing will affect the construction phase and the design phase, as new designs are enabled.

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24 JULY 2024