3D Printing in Construction

Jack Wilson (BCT) Jason Bhajan (BCT) Chris Roy (NRC)

 

Johnny Valek, a construction worker for over 25 years went to work just like any other day at 8 a.m… In his social life he was in the middle of preparing for retirement and also planning his daughter’s wedding. As Johnny looked forward to retirement, nothing excited him more to see his daughter get married. This is one thing that Johnny Valek will never get to experience. On that day, Valek entered work at the future St. Paul’s Saints stadium in Minnesota to begin construction and the unthinkable happened. A slab of concrete 10 feet by 30 feet fell from two stories and crushed a construction vehicle he was operating. Within an instant his family lost him, Johnny’s daughter lost her father, the one man to walk her down the aisle to begin her new life.

Many workers are hesitant on implementing and using innovative technology because it is “new” to them and the field; therefore they assume it will fail. This is the case with numerous cutting edge ideas; there is a certain doubt behind them until proven true and successful. The problem is, many workers have been in the construction field for many years and their techniques are inherent. They refuse to attempt new methods due to the fear of setbacks and loss of reputation. This mindset in construction is what hinders the advancement of innovative methods and technologies from becoming a new standard. Construction needs to advance in 3 major categories in order to stay in stride with other industries.

All industries strive to become safe, sustainable, and  improve production speed. The improvement of efficiency in construction is at a point of cessation compared to all other industries. Computers and cell phones are constantly improving becoming lighter, faster, and more innovative with time. Other sectors such as the automobile industry are now building car’s that are lighter, cheaper, and on a path of constant advancement. Technology in construction is outdated and hazardous but, new innovative technology is available which will revolutionize the entire industry once adapted.

Johnny Valek was just one case of danger and death on a construction site. It doesn’t stop there; the construction industry is slow to conform to new methods and advancements in the means of safety developments. Every year, thousands of workers like Johnny Valek are killed or injured due to outdated technologies and construction methods. According to the Health and Safety Executive of the US “Non-major injuries that required a three day absence from work rose from 4,813 in 2010/11 to 5,391 in 2011/12” (Stothart 2012). These statistics represent a growing issue we must address. The technology does exist to improve safety in construction and is waiting to be implemented. We not only need to protect the workers but also protect our planet.

When speaking of sustainability, we speak about utilizing all aspects of our working materials and reducing waste to help build in a conservative fashion. Looking at common methods used today, much of our material is left as waste as we cut and throw away scrap. Once again this is because many workers are educated in a standard way of building. Efficiency is a major component in building today it doesn’t only saves money, but saves valuable environmental resources. When construction first came to light, centuries ago, there was little concern with the amount of resources being wasted. The construction workers continued with the unsustainable standard from the past and now we are faced with limited resources. Resources are now being exhausted from over-consumption which then affects the environment and cost of projects. Without the adaptation of new sustainable technology, we will continue on this path of destruction. Decreasing our reliance on resources will positively impact our earth and keep us more in line with a sustainable future.

With all other industries, improving speed of production while retaining quality is essential. Construction currently has the capability to improve speed of completion to times unimaginable. Just like every other manufacturing company today, companies need to optimize their building speeds by using new technologies to produce at the highest rate possible. Construction workers in the field feel that the speed of construction is at a rate which cannot be surpassed. This is one misconception which was proved wrong throughout time; one example is the invention of power tools. The introduction of these tools brought faster build times and new innovative methods. Presently, there exists technology far more advanced than power tools, which once implemented will make primitive ways obsolete. This type of progression can be seen as a chain of advancements, from hand tools to power tools and now a new era awaits. These are the problems we face, and it’s time for a new beginning and a new solution to outdated methods..

For many when you hear 3D printing, the first thing that comes to mind is a standard computer printer at a home or work. This new technology of 3D printing is far advanced from that technology. 3D printing is a whole new machine altogether. A simple way to imagine this new age printer is to picture the sliding claw hand from a 25 cent machine. The claw can slide in a forward, backwards, up, down and a side to side motion to cover the entire area of where the prizes lay. This new 3D printer in comparison operates the same way in which a device slides along metal tracks following the commands of a computer. Also unlike the claw, which will lower to receive a prize, the 3D printer will lower and release the building composites. The composites range from wood byproducts mixed with glue, foams, plastics and even concrete. The way this printer works is by taking a computer generated image and building it layer by layer from the bottom up. The layers will stack on top of each other, sheet by sheet, and when all the layers are placed they will form the structure designed on the computer.

To further explain how the layer system works, if we were to print a solid sphere the first layer would look similar to a small round flat disk. The following layer would be a flat disk shape also but with a larger circumference. The following disks will get larger and larger building up. Once the halfway point is met the flat disk will gradually get smaller forming a sphere shape once completed. This technology would be able to build full houses including the foundation, space for outlets, space for windows, and would give artistic leeway to create complex components.

Construction and development has a bad reputation in accordance to the safety of individuals on sites. The human behavioral factor brings up numerous dynamics of construction where multi-leveled projects can become hazardous sites for dangerous occurrences. When there are different parts of a project occurring at once, communication breakdown can cause deaths and injuries. This can be from steel beams falling on workers to a nail-gun injuries. In the article “3D printing techniques will be used to construct buildings, here and in outer space” the author Lucas Mearian states “Today, construction is slow, labor intensive, inefficient — and the most hazardous job in the world, with 400,000 people injured 6,000 to 10,000 killed in construction accidents every year in the U.S. alone”(Mearian 2013). This technology would also eradicate any misunderstanding and variables that could potentially lead to injuries. The industry is losing lives that don’t need to be lost, with new technologies we can eliminate the reliance of people.

Although construction is seen as safe, the New York Post recorded that“The construction death rate in 2013 tripled than from last year” ( Gartland 2012). In another research study by the United States Department of Labor under the (Occupational Safety and Health Act 2012) released data that shown that within the private sector of construction, there had been 775 fatalities in 2012. This number breaks down to almost 15 deaths a week or 2 deaths per day. Look at it as losing two loved ones every day, this rate is what needs to be lowered. Clearly the construction field is not as safe as many perceive it to be. There has been little progress in the efficiency of construction, there is much room left for improvement.

On construction sites time is a motivating factor in which can lead people to feel pressured to get jobs finished quicker. There are incidences where people feel rushed to meet deadlines and decide to work quicker with less thought involved in their actions and decisions. The safety of people on job sites is regulated by these individuals who may feel pressure to finish a job. These job leaders then will use unsafe techniques to get the job done quicker or won’t fully speculate the consequences of forced decisions. The common types of injuries and fatalities that surface from such decisions come in the form of falls, trench collapse, scaffold collapse, electric shock, and the failure to use equipment properly. There will always be injuries due to time constraints and human dimensions of a development project and if we eliminate these old ways of construction than we can ultimately make the world a safer place. Although safety is an important factor, the speed of construction is also a major problem in this industry.

Development projects often are unsustainable in the amount of materials used and wasted on job sites making construction not only environmentally skewed but also more expensive. With the variable of human error there are wasted product from spills of concrete, broken bricks, mistakes in building, and other waste that are a natural part of modern construction.  In the article “In the future we might print not only buildings, but entire urban sections” by Emilie Charlcraft she notes “Traditional steel or concrete structures have a high level of redundancy – material that doesn’t need to be there, but which is too difficult or expensive to remove. But 3D printing allows material to be placed only where it is required” (Charlcraft 2013). By efficiently using materials we can mitigate the overall waste on a site along with saving the extra cost of using those unneeded materials. Three-dimensional printing is the new technology that is going to virtually eliminate any waste by using the material only where and when it is needed. The machine layers the fast drying material using a CAD program, which then executes the building process with no spills or unneeded materials. R.A. Buswell from the University of Loughborough analyzed this method of construction in their article “Freeform Construction: Mega-scale Rapid Manufacturing for construction” by looking at the collective cost.

The process yielded reasonable material properties and highlighted potential savings by reusing unused material. The work was promising and demonstrated that the principles of Rapid Manufacturing could be applied to construction materials…integration of mechanical and electrical services within the structure means reduced amounts of wasteful and time consuming builders work (Buswell 2013)

These costs and time-consuming construction techniques will limit our ability to gain efficiency in the future. Much like the past people do not want to change the way things have been done. This being said there are instances such as the industrial revolution where assembly lines created more efficient product creation where it progressed many industries. New technologies need to be adopted so that our culture can progress and build atop itself instead of living in the past with regret.

A large factor which makes or breaks different projects are time constraints, this meaning from times of the year when you can build to getting short projects done in a day in accordance to the customer’s needs. Three-dimensional printing creates an opportunity to get large development plans done quickly and efficiently so that the next project can be started and time and money isn’t wasted but gained. Mearian touches upon this notion by stating “University of Southern California believe 3D printing techniques will be used to construct entire buildings in less than a day…such machines can already extrude concrete walls with internal reinforcement fast enough to complete the shell of a 2,000-sq. ft. house in under 20 hours”(Mearian). This speed will be give construction companies to bid on jobs with assurance that they can finish it inside the deadline with no additional cost. Knowing when a project will be done gives companies copious advantages, one being the ability to start new jobs, which then creates more revenue. The amount of time it takes to build complex structures is minimized by the fast pace technology therefore contractors and developers have time to build intricate structures. Free-form printing offers the ability to create unique and typically difficult structures for the average worker to construct. Marketing this product will be easy because people can build what they want in a shorter amount of time with no expenses towards the intricate construction. Buswell supports this idea by saying “the coupling of digitally controlled process with solid modeling techniques will mean greater design freedom at no extra cost”(Buswell2013). When there is greater efficiency benefits arise and builders finally have the ability to have more artistic freedom. This resonates through the customer as well.

This process sounds almost too good to be true. It will be faster, less wasteful, and safer than conventional construction, but this also raises many other questions. Most people immediately think that if this technology is too efficient then it will put people out of jobs. People also think that it sounds very complex; therefore, it will be expensive. Lastly, the general public thinks that this technology perceives this as science-fiction and wonders if it is actually practical. All of these are valid concerns, but they can be logically refuted.

People may hear about this technology and question that if it is so great and efficient, won’t the construction industry take a huge hit. They think that Contractors and builders all around America will be without jobs. People think this way because, it is true that jobs will be lost. Intuitively the public tends to focus on the things they lose and do not see what they will gain. The pros of this technology far outweigh the cons. For many of the jobs that are lost, new ones will be created.  There will be new jobs that require people to operate this new machinery. This will also establish jobs for people to educate others on how to manage and use this new machinery.

3D printers also need to be built, which will require new factories to manufacture them, and old factories need employees to retrofit towards the new movement. This will create thousands of new jobs whether they will be permanent or temporary. In the online article 3-D printing could remake U.S. manufacturing by Paul Davidson he states “This minimalist factory exemplifies the latest chapter of the industrial revolution, one that could make U.S. manufacturing more competitive globally and could bring more jobs back to the United States.”(Davidson 2012). This article describes how a single man can operate one of these small 3D printers. He then goes on to say that if labor cost and production cost can be lowered significantly that the U.S. will produce goods cheap enough to be competitive again. Not only will creating and using these 3D printers directly create these jobs, but will create many jobs in a indirect way.

The machine is only one part of the system, and the other part is the medium being used to create the building. This might be wood composite, various metals, polymers, or concrete. Since this technology will be so efficient, it will put more pressure on the producers of the materials being used. For example, if full neighborhoods are being developed from concrete in a matter of a few weeks or months, then the concrete industry will have to expand and employ more people to keep up with the demand. This could also put a lot more goods in demand. Not only will the companies who produce construction materials flourish, but the companies who produce home goods as well. If the market is flooded with new houses, then they will all need furnishings and finish work completed. Every house will need a toilet and a sink and everything else’s that makes a house a house. This is why creating a more efficient way of construction will actually create jobs.

The building industry has a highly competitive market, with hundreds of different companies and corporations that all fit certain niches. 3D printing will not completely replace many of these conventional building styles, because many people will still want a traditionally built home. People will always be different, and they will always want unique houses. Although 3d printing offers a wide variety of materials and customization, there are still certain qualities that you will only be able to get in traditional housing. The housing market will remain competitive, because there are too many niches and variations of buildings for 3D printing to fill alone.

Lastly, this is not a process that is going to happen overnight. Technology takes time to develop and be perfected. 3D printing will slowly find its place amongst society without creating problems. The fact of life is that, we must keep advancing our technology to better society and the economy. We as citizens do not need to halt progress because we are afraid of losing a few outdated jobs. These jobs can be replaced by advanced technology so that progress is not sacrificed. This brings up our next topic of expense.

Advanced technology and a hefty price tag seem to be closely correlated. If you go down to the nearest Apple store and pick up the newest Iphone 5s, you will feel your wallet cowering in fear from the seven hundred dollar price tag. This is nothing compared to the 21 pound beast that IBM launched in 1981. This personal computer cost $1,565 and had 16 kilobytes of storage. The Iphones that we have today are millions of times more powerful and much cheaper than computers from less than 50 years ago.

3D printing is a new technology that is currently being developed. The first printers date back as far as 1986, and have only been improving since then. They are now available to both commercial companies and consumers, and are substantially cheaper. In the online article Mark Fleming (2013) states “There is a whole other world of 3D printers: personal and DIY hobbyist models. And they are getting cheap, with prices typically in the range of $300 – $2,000.” Not only will the machines themselves be cheaper, but they will construct housing and buildings at a fraction of the cost.

The buildings that are created from a 3D printer will be composed of the same construction materials as a normal house or building would be. This means that the cost of these materials will also be the same. However the process of construction is much different. Traditional construction utilizes a team of skilled worker. This work is labor intensive and usually takes days, weeks or even months to complete the project. Each person on this team must be paid for every hour they work, making construction long and expensive. With the new printing technology, the machine could be assembled on site and start constructing within hours. Although the printers do use the same materials the methods of construction are much different.

All construction is computer controlled. These computer programs take out the human factor, and reduce the amount of mistakes made. Mistakes are often expensive to fix, and this unnecessary cost can be removed using 3D printer. Also with the printer there is no need for formwork, because it extrudes self-supporting materials. The machine is also automated which greatly reduces the need for laborers. Fewer laborers mean that there will be less people to pay.  The speed and savings of this machine are so revolutionary that many people do not believe that they are actually practical.

These printers could appear to be fictitious or impractical; but that fact is that we already use them for many things today. These printers are becoming more and more common. Models can be purchased by consumers for as cheap as $200. Many of these printers have great success in printing small objects with great detail. These printers have accuracy that is in the fractions of millimeters. The Printers are now more commonly being used for larger products, like architectural sculptures and small house prototypes. In the online article Mark Fleming (2013) describes one of the structures “In 2009 he worked with architect Andrea Morgante to print a three-metre-high pavilion resembling a giant egg with large holes in its surface”.(Fleming 2013) Large companies, like the aircraft manufacturer Boeing have also been using these printers to make parts for their jumbo jets. These printers are real, and are being used in many applications today. They must be more focused on the building industry, and soon will be safely providing more affordable structures through a more efficient process.

This technology will only benefit us as we develop and perfect it, and then integrate it into the construction process. The United States government should provide more money for research in this field. They also need to be pushing to change building codes to allow for this type of building to be integrated into the existing built environment. This process must be implemented to increase the construction efficiency and safety of our country. The only way to change this is with hard work, time and funding.

Government could use some of taxpayer’s money to invest into this developing product. They can collect for this because it will be benefiting everyone as a whole. Also the government could give grants to companies who are willing to develop and use this technology. Another way that money could be collected is by funding from private business owners. This would be a great incentive, because they would get the money back in the savings in the development phase that they spent in the research and testing phase. This would save the companies money and further the technology. This is an achievable goal that will revolutionize the building industry.

This new way of construction takes advantage of the speed and efficiency, to help produce an affordable customizable house. People can now help design their house and customize it to their likings. This movement could not only be used to create standard buildings and homes, but it could be used to create low income housing. It could even be used for housing in 3rd world countries to improve social welfare globally. These printers are a necessity for the future, because they are so much faster, more sustainable, and less hazardous. The options are endless when it comes to using 3d printers in the construction industry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Chalcraft, E.(2013, May 21). In the future we might print not only buildings, but entire urban sections.Dezeen Magazine. Retrieved from   http://www.dezeen.com/2013/05/21/3d-printing-architecture-print-shift/

 

Davidson, P. (July 10, 2012). 3-D printing could remake U.S. manufacturing.USA Today. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/a/umass.edu/document/d/1zzjgs-rJqNh_d40449LZhjL3knufNoTzSijMee 8LDNg/edit#

 

Elliott A.(2011, August 12).Personal computers:A history of the hardware that changed the world.Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2011/08/12/ibm-pc-history/

 

Fleming, M.(2013). What is 3D printing? An overview.3D Printer. Retrieved fromhttp://www.3dprinter.net/reference/what-is-3d-printing

 

Gartland, M. (April 7,2012). Death toll at NYC construction sites tripled last year. New York Post.Retrived from http://nypost.com/2013/04/07/death-toll-at-nyc-construction-sites-tripled -last-year/

 

Mearian, L.(September 18, 2013). 3D printing techniques will be used to construct buildings, here and in outer space. Computer World. Retrieved from http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9242482/3D_printing_techniques_will_be_used_to_construct  buildings_here_and_in_outer_space_

 

Stothart, C. (October 31, 2012). Construction has the largest workplace death toll, says HSE.Construction news. Retrieved from http://www.cnplus.co.uk/news/construction-has-the-largest-workplace-death-toll-says-hse/8637974.article

 

Evan

2 Comments

  1. Your experience was really motivated. I feel glad to read your blog. I have bookmarked your blog so that I can read new stuff that will come to your site. Keeping posting interesting posts in the future.

  2. Your experience was really motivating. I feel glad to read your blog. I have bookmarked your blog so that I can read new stuff that will come to your site. Keeping posting interesting posts in the future.

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