3D printing. What is it and how is it impacting the construction industry? Currently valued at almost 13-billion-dollars and expected to triple by 2026, the 3D printing industry is booming and slowly introducing viable alternatives to traditional building methods. According to Business Wire, the global 3D printing construction market is expected to reach almost 1.5-billion-dollars by 2028. While architecture and construction is only a small component of the current 3D printing market, it can be used for complex projects and offers more efficiency, lower labor costs, decreased material waste, higher accuracy, and faster construction speed.
Extrusion-based 3D printing is the dominant method in the construction industry and is used for on-site construction elements such as concrete and cement. According to a Grand View Research report published in July of 2021, extrusion accounts for 61% of the 3D printing in construction market revenue in 2020. Extrusion is a layer-by-layer method utilizing a robotic arm. When laying concrete, a robotic arm moves and positions itself using software while extruding concrete mixture out of its machine nozzle. These layers use the exact amount of concrete needed to complete the programmed pattern, ultimately leaving little to no material waste. Savings associated with 3D printing concrete is a potential game changer for major construction projects as concrete and cement accounts for a large portion of any construction budget.
While all of this sounds promising for the construction industry, this technology is still being tested in many areas. There are some drawbacks that are worth noting which include high capital investment for the equipment and training, a labor shortage for those who possess the skills to learn the new technology, and government regulations that have yet to be established. Will the upfront expense of the equipment, software, and training outweigh supply chain uncertainties and added costs associated with traditional construction? Less change orders, more budgetary control, faster build schedules? My hope is that more construction companies begin to take the leap and introduce 3D printing as an offering in the near future. While the risks and newness associated with 3D printing may cause contractors and architects to be cautious in their adoption, companies like COBOD and Peri Group in EMEA and Contour Crafting Corporation in California beginning to disrupt construction norms and provide innovative 3D offerings to their clients.