3D Printing Houses - The Future Of Construction?

Posted by on 24 February 2017

3d printer and house in printingFrom cars and shoes through to the mind blowing potential of actually ‘printing’ new organs for people in need of a transplant, 3D printing is set to revolutionise the creation of all manner of things on a global scale. Understandably the obvious potential for its application within the construction industry is beginning to emerge.

Already many prototype 3D printed residential construction projects have been completed successfully around the world, along with a rise in conceptual ideas for 3D printing uses within the construction industry. For example mass produced temporary and emergency housing, sustainable recyclable buildings and structures, portable off grid ‘pods’ and futuristic living environments.

What Are The Benefits Of 3D Printing Homes?

3D printed housing reportedly boasts a long list of benefits including but not limited to;

  • Reduced labour costs
  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased construction timeframes
  • Remote location construction
  • Reduced building material wastage
  • Greater flexibility in building designs and shapes
  • Increased precision and accuracy
  • Greater construction speeds
  • Increased availability
  • Greater customisation

Taking into account all of the above 3D printed housing could theoretically result in significantly lower cost housing production. Promoters believe 3D printed housing could even present a possible solution for overcrowded housing issues under the strain of the worlds ever increasing population growth, particularly in 3rd world countries.

What Materials Are Used In 3D Printed Construction?

3D printed buildings and their components are currently produced using complex 3D Printers of various sizes, cutting-edge automated machinery that includes robotic components and usually some type of concrete or plastic composite materials.

Even though concrete and plastic building composites have their advantages, the introduction of alternative building materials will be crucial to the further development of the 3D printing process making it more attractive to a wider range of applications. A local Canterbury University researcher has recently received funding to explore the possibility of 3D printing with wood. Using a similar process to 3D printing with living cells, Associate Professor David Leung proposes to grow wood cells in the lab with the intention to expand production of the wood material making it available for 3D printing construction purposes.

What Does This Mean For 3D Printing Construction In New Zealand?

Whether on or off site, 3D printing construction techniques are still in the very early stages. It is unclear yet about the long term durability, structural stability or lifespan of these buildings and even though the final product may result in lower cost housing, it is necessary to understand that regulatory requirements and quality control issues will have an effect on the real world application here in New Zealand.

The New Zealand construction industry typically uses tried and tested, industry proven construction materials and practices ensuring the durability and reliability of buildings while taking into account exposure to local weather conditions, terrain and historical factors. New building materials will need to be subjected to rigorous testing and may be required to undergo official certification in order to be introduced into the building industry on a widespread scale. Hence entire 3D house printing is not likely to be widely adopted here in New Zealand with any great speed, but perhaps we will see a more gradual incorporation through the use of more specific building components.

Although, there is always the possibility that the irrepressible pioneering spirit and good old kiwi ingenuity in conjunction with the increased build activity in the Canterbury region (in particular the Christchurch rebuild) that New Zealanders will see a more rapid introduction of innovative 3D printing technologies than expected.

Fast forward into the future and it is evident the potential of 3D printing in the construction industry will mean builders, electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters, engineers and architects in Christchurch and beyond are going to need to know how to work alongside increasingly intelligent automated technology, taking on a more holistic approach to the new build process.