In the 1980s when my father was constructing his single-storey house, it took more than three years for completion. Traditional construction has speeded up, and presently maybe in 6 to 8 months the same house can be built. To cut short the time further, the new technique of construction through 3D printing is now in the arena.
Recently in Chennai, a 600 sq. ft, one-storey, one bedroom house, was constructed through 3D printing in a mere five days!
‘Additive manufacturing’ as it is called has been around since the early 1980s, but has now entered the mainstream. Its use in making things ranging from orthopedic implants to components for aircraft is already well established.
3D printing has one underlying principle; the details vary according to the products and processes involved. It uses computer-aided-design (CAD) software or 3D object scanners to direct hardware to deposit material, layer upon layer, in precise geometric shapes. It adds material to create an object. On the other hand, conventionally machining or other techniques are needed to remove surplus material to create a shape. By varying the shape, and sometimes the composition of each layer, objects that would be difficult or impossible to produce with conventional techniques can be created.
The possibility of 3D printing of houses has generated a lot of excitement. Will this new construction technique solve the affordable housing challenge facing the world? As per UN estimates, by 2030, almost 60 percent of 8.3 billion people will live in cities, and the world will need 300 million new homes. Many feel that traditional housing will not be sufficient to meet future global needs. It is expensive, labor-intensive, and takes months to complete. Therefore, construction through 3D printing is looked at with great interest.
Printed homes, are constructed in a speedier manner, and it is estimated that they would cost 30% less than traditional constructions. This technology allows for better usage of materials, greater intricacies of design, and also reduces labour and transportation costs, making it greener than traditional construction.
As the exact quantity of concrete and other materials used are known, there is less wastage. In most places the raw material is poured in on-site, thus reducing carbon emissions of transport. Companies are continuously working on making the raw materials and process more environment friendly.
Printed houses can use appropriate materials to adapt to local conditions, consequently energy can be saved on power consumption for ACs and heaters. They can be used efficiently in the wake of natural calamities also, apart from fulfilling the need for affordable housing. And the technology has the potential to help in construction of structures and housing on the Moon and Mars!
As per reports. the global market for construction 3D printing is expected to grow from $0.01 billion in 2021 to $0.02 billion in 2022, and reach $0.87 billion in 2026 at a CAGR of 169.3%. Asia Pacific is reportedly the fastest growing market. Across the world many buildings have come up using this mode of construction – from Mexico to Russia and from Dubai to Europe.
For all the interest it is generating, the technology currently does have some challenges. As of now, the buildings so constructed are basic and functional, and most of them are single floor. For stacking one floor on top of another, companies are using traditional scaffolding. Further, building laws and codes will need to be modified to accommodate and regulate such structures. Like any other technology, printed houses may become the norm in the future or remain merely as interesting landscapes in some areas. This mode of building has not yet taken the construction industry by storm. However, it does hold hope and promise for the future
Published in Hindi in Dainik Bhaskar and in English on The Indian Eye in April 15,2022 issue