Kingspan Water & Energy

Ask The Innovators - Are 3D Printed Towns The Future?


Source: Kingspan Water & Energy

Some hail it as the next hero of the construction industry, others are suspicious of safety and standards. Regardless of your view, 3D printing holds a lot of promise.
A relatively new technology, the first developments in 3D printing date back to just 1995. Now we see 3D printed projects from bridges to villas popping up all over the globe.  
With a growing need for housing and infrastructure could 3D printing transform the towns and cities we live in?
3D printing could save significant amounts of money in bringing construction projects to market, through shorter times and fewer wasted resources.
A major benefit of 3D printing is the endless design and material options.
Emily Maguire, Divisional Marketing Executive at Kingspan, believes that 3D printing will give architects far more freedom with design. “The beauty of 3D printing is that it makes almost any design possible. You are not confined by shape or structure.”
Emily added that another advantage of 3D printing in construction is the opportunity to introduce new materials.
Dutch designer Joris Laarman has designed a pedestrian bridge for Amsterdam that will be 3D printed using robotics. The ornate metal structure will span a canal in the Dutch city. The team at MX3D believe that the project shows how 3D printing has finally entered the world of large-scale, functional objects while allowing unprecedented freedom of form.
While 3D printing could be the future for creative design, it could also be a solution when disaster strikes. In the developing world, low-income housing could be erected in record time, while speedily printed structures could help rebuild towns and homes in the wake of destruction. After the 2015 earthquake in Nepal 3D printing was used to mend damaged pipes.
It is suggested that 65% of the next decade’s construction is said to come from developing markets and with heavy population growth in these developing markets, there is nothing that these markets require more than safe and affordable housing
3D printing can help limit the construction industry’s impact on the environment, as there is far less waste. “With 3D printing, you simply use what you need; no more, no less. This not only saves money on projects but also significantly cuts back on waste.” Emily said.
Chinese company Winsun is a major player in 3D printing within the construction industry. It is behind the world’s first 3D printed villa as well as the first five-storey apartment building. Winsun estimates that 3D printing technology can save up to 60% of building materials and shortens production and construction times by 50 to 70%.
Despite the various advantages, many within the construction industry are cautious of the new technology. “3D printing is disruptive. It’s changing the way we do things, and it’s hard to know what will happen next.” Emily said. “I think someone will come in and make it the new norm, the new standard for the industry.”
Regulation is another hurdle on the road towards 3D printed towns. Standards for traditional building have been carefully crafted over the decades to ensure our buildings are safe and reliable. There is no track record, each project is looked at case by case, which Emily believes can make regulators jumpy.
Regardless of the benefits and costs, 3D technology is beginning to leave its mark on the world, and outer space. NASA have been experimenting with 3D printing for some time now, and plan to use the technology to build bases on both Mars and the Moon. Robots will 3D print basic buildings and roads before astronauts arrive.

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