How 3D printing is revolutionising sustainable construction


Government Europa explores how 3D printing is being used to build the structures of the future for sustainability.

Additive manufacturing is a term that is used to encompass a range of technologies, including 3D printing, rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing, which are used to create three-dimensional objects through the process of layering material.

Additive manufacturing offers a range of advantages over traditional manufacturing, such as its material versatility and the unique structures which it is able to create. 3D printing is utilised throughout a range of manufacturing sectors and is responsible for producing everything from simple tools to major components in aeroplane engines. Here, Government Europa explores how 3D printing could be used to build the structures of the future.

The logistics of layering

3D modelling software – also known as Computer Aided Design (CAD) – is the foundation of most additive manufacturing technologies, alongside the desired material and equipment. Once a sketch has been produced in the CAD software, the equipment reads the data from the file and begins the process of additive layering using an appropriate material.

The versatility of the technology means that 3D objects can be fashioned from a range of materials, whether that be liquid, powder or sheet materials. The cartridge is loaded with the relevant material and subsequently printed, layer by layer. These layers of material are fused together until a solid shape is fashioned.

A breadth of benefits for construction

As a great advancement in modern design and construction, 3D printing enables users to produce a variety of complex shapes which had previously been thought of as too complex or completely unachievable. Designs which cannot be manufactured as a single unit through traditional methods, and must be assembled, can be made as a solid whole through the layering process of 3D printing. Even complex objects, such as those with hollow bodies, can be produced as a single unit without needing to weld components together at a later stage, which in turn can give these objects stronger structures.

Additive manufacturing is a rapid process, without the need for continuous development and adaptations to structural changes. However, should changes be required, these can be communicated to the machine through CAD software, requiring basic intervention such as button selection. For instance, rapid prototyping is, by nature, a swift process through which models can be produced out-of-hours. The potential benefits delivered by the extra time efficiency generated by automation are many, including flexibility and cost reduction.

Historically, production limitations have influenced design, particularly in cases where structures were impractical. Now, 3D printing has revolutionised design and construction in the modern age and made the impossible possible.

Advancements in additive manufacturing

In 2018, UK-based research institute the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) was selected by the global standards organisation ASTM International, USA, to become the first non-US partner in its centre of excellence in manufacturing. Aiming to raise, align and merge global standards for additive manufacturing through collaboration, the centre will work to fill gaps in additive manufacturing. This will also involve funding projects which will work to advance additive manufacturing standards and innovation throughout Europe and beyond.

The MTC oversees the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing (NCAM), which showcases a comprehensive collection of equipment and capabilities from across the UK. It also encompasses the European Space Agency’s Additive Manufacturing Benchmarking Centre.

Dr Mohsen Seifi, director of global manufacturing programmes at ASTM International, said: “The MTC’s proposal was one of the highest ranked among dozens of proposals submitted. Clearly the MTC will play a key role in achieving the vision of filling industry gaps in standardisation and driving innovation on a global scale.”

Professor Ken Young, MTC’s technical director, added: “We are excited to join this vitally important effort to build a strong technical foundation for the future of additive manufacturing.” By aligning global technical standards, the organisation can co-ordinate innovation and development of the new technology far more efficiently.

A new era for construction: 3D printing

Next year, Eindhoven, the Netherlands, will see a world first in both construction and 3D printing: habitable homes produced via 3D printing. Project Milestone will see five new houses enter the rental market in 2019, where 20 applicants have already shown interest in the revolutionary development. Dutch construction company Van Wijnen believes that the use of automated construction technologies will provide a solution to the shortage of skilled workmen in the Netherlands.

The development is also expected to reduce costs and any potential environmental damage by reducing the quantity of cement used in construction. The unique 3D printer takes the form of a robotic arm and nozzle, which will disperse an innovative cement material printed to the specifications of the architect.

Rudy van Gurp, manager at Van Wijnen, told the Guardian: “We have no need for the moulds used to create houses made with cement today, and so we will never use more cement than is necessary.”

It is anticipated that, following the construction of exterior and inner walls via the printer, drainage pipes and other essential installations will be produced through the printer, which will be located at the development site, which will further reduce costs associated with the transportation of materials.

Van Gurp emphasised the potential the technology has to create customised homes with interesting designs: “We are already looking to take a step further and people will be able to design their own homes and then print them out. People will be able to make their homes suit them, personalise them, and make them more aesthetically pleasing.” He added that the homes currently being built by the project have a futuristic design, which he feels represents the innovative technology in play.

The manager of Van Wijnen anticipates that 3D printed homes will become normalised within five years: “I think by then about 5% of homes will be made using a 3D printer. In the Netherlands, we have a shortage of bricklayers and people who work outside and so it offers a solution to that. It will eventually be cheaper than the traditional methods.”



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