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3D’S IMPACT ON THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

3D printing first made its debut in the 1980s, but it has taken a while for the construction industry to tap into the cost effective, time saving and safety improvements that this technology provides. That is changing, as more and more construction companies are using 3D printing to create new and innovative projects that are transforming the industry.

One of the most appealing areas of 3D printing is in concrete construction. A two-week job can be completed in just three to four days since there is no down time needed in allowing employees to eat, sleep and take breaks, possibly saving construction companies up to 50 percent on building costs as a result.  

Another time-saving benefit involves blueprints and 3D models. 3D printers can be programmed to create buildings in layers rather than constructing each stage of the building from the ground up. This allows electricians, plumbers and other infrastructure employees to finish their areas of construction in less time. In addition, since companies using 3D printing can quickly and inexpensively create visual models prior to construction, they are able to pinpoint problem areas beforehand, thus avoiding delays.

Material costs can also be reduced with 3D printing since less materials are used in the process. Since 3D printers allow builders to know exactly how much is needed in concrete and other materials, there is no need to order in bulk, thus eliminating overspending. This in turn is better for the environment since less materials used means a reduction in waste produced, particularly in toxic materials such as fiberglass. In addition, the amount of lumber needed in the framework of buildings may also be lowered, an advantage to green construction firms but not so much for the lumber industry.

3D printing can also lessen or prevent chemicals at construction sites from leeching into storm water, thus contaminating local groundwater and possibly damaging the local ecosystem. Less time on the job also means a reduction in a job’s carbon imprint and less waste in materials since each piece of a building is precisely created, thereby resulting in no leftover or unused concrete pieces that then need to be disposed of.

On-the-job injuries can also decrease when using 3D printing in construction. Building with concrete and building in general can be dangerous and difficult, so making it easier for construction employees to do their jobs in a safer environment means less workman compensation claims and less time spent on filing the necessary paperwork that is required.

Job security is an additional benefit for construction employees. On one hand, 3D printing might appear to eliminate jobs currently needed on job sites or reduce the time workers spend on a job site leading to a reduction in pay. But on the other hand, there will be a new need for construction workers who understand 3D printing technology. This could mean an increase in wages that can be offset by the increase in profits for construction companies willing to use 3D printing.

Construction companies who make 3D printing part of their platform can also offer innovative and creative architectural designs to potential clients seeking less traditional buildings. This can lead to an increase in a company’s portfolio.

Despite the many benefits of 3D printing in the construction industry, there are some challenges and downsides to this game changing technology. For example, the 3D printing process as a construction method is not currently recognized by many building codes and governing bodies who are concerned about whether or not structures built using 3D printing methods are solid enough to withstand various environments and weather conditions. Studies indicate that 3D printing methods, especially in concrete, actually provide more durability and less repairs over time, but many code enforcement agencies and local governments do not yet recognize this projection.

Another negative potential aspect of 3D printing in construction is its impact on the workforce, as previously mentioned. While on one hand, it could present opportunities for workers willing to learn the technology, it may not solve the industry’s skilled worker shortage. In addition, automation has hurt other industries’ workforce, such as in farming or manufacturing, so less workers needed on a job site could mean more workers looking for jobs.

Still, the use of 3D printing in construction is likely to grow, especially in the housing market, where faster building means more home buying opportunities and more affordable homes for consumers. And since traditional construction can be costly, wasteful and often over budget, 3D printing presents opportunities for construction to be greener, more eco-friendly and more cost-effective. Its use also allows for competing construction companies to remain relevant and competitive. And thanks to 3D printing’s more environmentally friendly processes, it can be a game changer in terms of public relations, where construction companies are often viewed by the general public as wasteful and unsustainable.

Those construction companies willing to embrace 3D printing will be able to tap into new and exciting markets and take advantage of 3D printing’s time and cost saving benefits, leading to more projects and more profits, and a wider berth of clientele.

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