The Future Of 3D Printed Building Construction Is Now

WinSun's 3D printed apartment building.

WinSun’s 3D printed apartment building.

Back in November 2013 we wrote an article asking Does It Matter Who Wins the Race to Create the First 3D Printed Building? We determined that being first didn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that there were a number of firms working on the technology to make 3D printed buildings a reality. Some of the projects we covered were DUS Architects’ canal house in Amsterdam using their KamerMaker 3D printer, Enrico Dini’s D-Shape 3D printer and Behrokh Khoshnevis’ Contour Crafting. At the time it appeared we probably wouldn’t see a functional and usable building until the end of 2014 at the earliest.

Little did we know that about four months later in March 2014, a company out of China, WinSun Decoration Design Engineering, would 3D print 10 single-room buildings in in a span of 24 hours.  Each building was roughly 2,153ft2 and cost less than $5,000 each to build. Ten months later, WinSun followed up on that impressive feat by announcing they had built a 3D printed five-story apartment building and an 11,840ft2 villa. The villa reportedly cost $161,000 to build and was completed by an eight-man team in 30 days.

WinSun prints the building components offsite using printers that measure 20 feet tall by 33 feet wide by 132 feet long and uses an “ink” composed of recycled construction waste, fiberglass, concrete, sand and a hardening agent. The building components are printed in layers in a diagonally reinforced pattern for strength. The printed building components are transported and assembled onsite in order to complete the buildings. The company is planning to expand operations by establishing printing facilities in 20 other countries including Saudi Arabia and the United States. In the future, WinSun wants to expand their capabilities in order to build skyscrapers and bridges.

With the news that WinSun is planning to expand its operations to the United States, the question shifts from when will we see the first habitable 3D printed building to what the implications are for the construction industry once this disruptive gains traction. Local and state building codes will probably have to be addressed at some point. Organizations like the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will likely determine standards such as test methods and specifications for the 3D building material “ink”. Plants will have to be established to manufacture the “ink” and factories will be needed to build the printers and to print the building components if they aren’t being printed onsite.

We mentioned in our previous article on 3D printed buildings that there would be a tradeoff in jobs. Jobs for traditional construction workers would be lost in favor of positions like 3D printer operators and repair technicians, etc. Obviously this won’t have a major impact on jobs since 3D printed buildings aren’t going to occupy a significant share of the construction market any time soon. It’s way too early to tell if it ever will. Some of the initial applications discussed include affordable, low cost housing for both single-family and multi-family residences as well as a way to provide fast and affordable temporary housing in disaster relief situations.

4 Responses to “The Future Of 3D Printed Building Construction Is Now”

  1. Dennis O March 12, 2015 at 9:38 AM #

    Really! “printed buildings aren’t going to occupy a significant share of the construction market any time soon. It’s way too early to tell if it ever will”. All it will take to be immediately embraced is low cost.
    I think you underestimate the power Entrepreneurship. For every $10,000 dollars saved in construction costs on a typical building it will accelerate the testing of materials and creating of standards that ultimately will allow use in the US.

    • Kendall Jones March 12, 2015 at 10:50 AM #

      Dennis, thanks for the comment. Eventually, yes 3D printing will occupy a good portion of the construction market assuming that there’s demand for it. Low cost housing, apartment buildings, strip malls, low-rise office buildings, schools are all likely uses for this technology. I would say in the next decade or two it could be a significant amount in some areas. Just as an example. the green building movement started back in the early 90s and twenty years later it now occupies a significant amount, roughly 50 percent of all commercial and institutional construction.

      I think the potential ceiling for 3D printing in the construction industry is limitless with all the possible applications currently being researched and developed.

  2. Worktops Co March 22, 2015 at 4:25 AM #

    I’m really enjoying watching the whole 3D printing industry grow and expand, one thing that I’m finding quite hard to see right now is the real benefit and use with it all. Buildings are of course a huge feat that’s been accomplished but what makes it even more exciting is that as the printing tech improves, the possibilities become even greater!

    • Kendall Jones March 23, 2015 at 7:04 AM #

      Thanks for the comment. I think one of the practical uses currently being applied is architect firms using the technology to 3D print models for clients to better visualize the end product. Companies like the architect firm Arup are looking to use maraging steel to print building structural components. Skanska and Foster + Partners are working with Loughborough University to create a 3D concrete printing robot to do architectural features and eventually concrete cladding.

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