3D printers are often thought of as microwave-sized machines that recreate digital models out of plastic. While this is true for most consumer-based 3D printers, there’s a whole other level of 3D printing technology being developed and implemented for industrial uses, including construction.
Large-scale 3D printers designed for bigger projects are becoming more mainstream and affordable. The introduction of 3D printers to the industry can lead to reduced costs labor and materials and more efficient construction.
Companies that have working prototypes of large-scale 3D printers include Apis Cor, which has a printer that can create a 400-square-foot structure within 24 hours. The project cost just over $10,000 to build, including labor and materials. While the company’s printer created the cement walls, manual labor was still required to install the roof, wiring, plumbing and insulation in order to make the home livable.
Contour Crafting is another company that is working on concepts to 3D-print structures using a massive, on-rails scaffolding. It even has concepts to print structures on the moon or Mars.
Rather than the photopolymer resin used in most 3D printing, the industrial-sized printers for construction projects use other materials, the most common being a concrete composite. The 3D printing construction company CyBe uses a specially designed mortar that sets within three minutes of being printed and dries in one hour.
Many companies currently use or are developing a concrete mix made with recycled materials. Construction company Cazza’s mix is made from up to 80 percent recycled material.
While the larger-scale applications are still being developed, 3D printing can still be useful to construction companies and contractors. Rather than printing whole structures, some companies are using it to create individual pieces and parts.
“3D printing within construction is already happening, but mostly for very specific components like joints and connectors,” said Sam Janzen, creative director at LUMA-iD. “If one expensive 3D print costs less than a series of standard components, or if the 3D print is small enough to be cost-efficient, then it’s a no-brainer.”
If you own a 3D printer, the internet is home to thousands of open source 3D printing plans for a multitude of tools that could be used for work. On Thingiverse, you can find free plans for wrenches, hand-screw clamps, hand drills, wire strippers, tweezers, measuring tools and plenty of other tools to round out your handyman belt.
If you need to pitch a project to potential clients, you can impress them with a 3D-printed model of the finished project drafted with AutoCAD or another blueprint program. Presenting a physical, scaled-down version of the project may be the trick to winning a bid.