The Future of 3D Printed Infrastructure

By Isabelle Robinson, (AZO Build)

Dubbed ‘the next industrial revolution’ by The Institute of Structural Engineers, the use of automation and artificial intelligence is playing a key role in the construction industry.

The use of new technologies has allowed the more innovative engineer to offer low cost, unique buildings that can be quickly manufactured. Structural Engineer Victoria Richardson claims that as the need to create efficient infrastructure rises, the need to use 3D printing becomes more imperative (Richardson, 2017).

In March 2018, construction company Arup has teamed up with CLS Architects to unveil Europe’s first 3D printed house. The development aimed to demonstrate the potential of 3D printing technology in civil and structural engineering.

The prototype of the single-story structure is to be revealed in April 2018 at Milan’s design festival, Salone del Mobile. The 3D printed house will contain a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom over an area of 100 square meters.

The project is known as 3D Housing 05 and has been designed to be dismantled and reassembled at ease. Currently, the house is being printed in Milan’s central square, Piazza Cesare Beccaria using a mobile 3D printing robot which has been provided by CyBe Construction from the Netherlands. In addition to this, one of the world’s largest concrete suppliers, Italcementi, is providing the base mixture for use when printing the concrete walls and roof.

One of the primary reasons for highlighting 3D printing technology for use in the construction industry is sustainability. Construction company, Arup, boasts that this technology will not only reduce waste during the building process but will also ensure that the printed parts of the project can be designed to be reused in future projects.

We want to bring a paradigm shift in the way the construction industry operates and believe that 3D printing technology is critical to making buildings more sustainable and efficient. It creates less waste during construction and materials can be repurposed and reused at the end of their life.
— Guglielmo Carra, Arup’s Europe Materials Consulting Lead

It is not a secret that the construction industry has been deemed to be one of the world’s largest consumers of resources as well as emitting high amounts of C02, a known factor of climate change and global warming.

Luca Stabile, Italy Building Practice Leader, declares that Arup, in partnership with CLS Architects, “believe 3D printing will contribute to breaking the conventional barriers in engineering and architecture.”

The benefits of using 3D printing in structural engineering have long been discussed. Arup professes that the technology is more economically viable than traditional construction methods. This is due to the efficient material use and the flexibility 3D printing technology offers projects in terms of design. More structures with complex architecture, like double-curved walls, can be manufactured with less expense.

BIM enthusiasts should be excited about the role of 3D printing in construction because Arup also insists that by using this futuristic method of construction, construction can receive a direct transfer of information from the 3D design model. This is deemed to be able to radically reduce building mistakes and discrepancies.

However, this will not be the first time that 3D printing will be used in construction. There have been numerous attempts to apply the technology in house building. Just recently, the US construction technologies company, Icon, demonstrated a new method that enabled the 3D printing of a one-story home in under twenty-four hours.

Luca Stabile at Arup explains that, “the use of new technologies alongside a new digital approach to the built environment will be instrumental to creating even more complex multi-story 3D printed buildings.”

Andre Watts, founder of the British engineering company, Newtecnic, agrees with this statement. According to Watts, the engineering and maintenance industries will be fundamentally changed by 2050. (Flaig, 2018)

Watts stated, “The use of drones for cleaning or maintenance is the tip of the iceberg. What they will be maintaining is itself about to be transformed, and the major transformations are based on 3D printing and rapid prototyping.”

3D printing, and technologies like it, have profound economical and sustainable advantages for the construction industry. Arup has taken the first step towards an exciting and automated future.

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