EDUCATION

Construction 3D Printing Technologies | Explained

Concrete 3D Printing
Above: 3D Printed home under construction in Calverton, NY, USA/Image Source: SQ4D

Construction 3D printing is a rapidly growing application of 3D printing that is seeing an exponential growth in recent years. The reason is owing to the development of construction 3D printing technologies, the construction materials and supporting software. By combining all these three things, the technology is able to build strong structures like building, brides, outdoor furniture, and even sculptures.

According to a 2019 MarketsAndMarkets report, the construction 3D printing industry is set to grow at a CAGR of 245% till 2024. This makes us stop and take notice of the new application in 3D printing and how it will play out in the coming future.

But before talking about the implications of the technology, we will explore the construction 3D printing technologies in use in current times and how they operate.

Construction 3D Printing Technologies

Traditional construction industry is facing a new challenge from the emerging 3D printing technologies developed specifically for the printing of concrete and metal structures. The construction is not limited to houses, but multi-storey building, infrastructures like bridges, statues and abstract art is also on the radar of the new technology.

We take a look at some of the construction 3D printing technologies in use at the moment.

1. Robotic Arm Extruders

Construction 3D Printing
Above: COBOD’s BOD2 Construction 3D Printer/Image Source: COBOD

One of the most popular techniques used in construction 3D printing is with the use of Robotic Arm Extruders. This technique is called as Contour Crafting. This method involves deposition of the building material through a large material extruder onto the ground where the structure will be built.

Construction 3D printing is very similar to FDM/FFF 3D printing. In the case of FDM/FFF 3D printing process where the extruder deposits the melted material onto a build platform. The build area always lies within the guiderails and the rails ensure that the deposition occurs at the correct geometrical spot though the instructions assigned by the software.

Similarly, for concrete 3D printing, guide rails are installed around the building area where the deposition will take place. The extruder moves into position according to the set of instructions passed on by the software. The printing follows a similar layer-by-layer process of extruding the concrete material from the nozzle of the extruder. Trowels placed on the side and above the nozzle to flatten the extruded layers and ensure strength of the model.

2. Sand 3D Printing

D-Shape 3D printer
Above: Italian Architect Enrico Dini with the D-Shape construction 3D printer/Image Source: D-Shape

Another construction 3D printing technique is called as D-Shape®. It is a method of digital construction that uses a binder jetting 3D printer for architecture. An Italian Architect – Enrico Dini, was observing the Z-Corp 3D printer at his work place when he suddenly realised the potential of the technology in the architectural space.

The  D-Shape® is a particle bed process that materializes buildings or building blocks directly from your computer via a process of alternating layers of granular material and writing on them with an appropriate ‘Ink Binder’ that turns the granular material into a shape.. The D-Shape 3D printer spreads a thin layer of sand powder as per the geometry of the design in a layer by layer form and after each layer, the deposited material is poured with droplets of a binder material to harden the sane particles.

According to the company, D-Shape is the only construction 3D printing process that can design and build an entire building structure in one-go. It can print anything and everything from the basement, up to the roof including foundations, partitioning walls, ceilings, stairs, and cavities for MEP, outer patterns, and furniture. This is made possible by the particular material deposition technique that makes the structure self-sustaining during its construction. By this way, it is possible to construct buildings of any shape.

However, it must be noted that this technology can not only be used for building large structures but also for complex and abstract art structures.

3. Metal Structure 3D Printing

Metal Structure 3D Printing
Above: MX3D’s WAAM Robotic Arm 3D printing the metal bridge/Image Source: MX3D

The third popular method for construction 3D printing is through the Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) technology developed by MX3D – a Dutch Startup. Their machine can build metal structures with a 6-axis robot by dropping 2 kilograms of material per hour.

The WAAM technology is a type of a Directed Energy Deposition (DED) 3D printing technology that uses a welding equipment, a nozzle and metal material (metal rods in this case) to build objects in a layer-by-layer process. Metals such as stainless steel, bronze, Inconel and aluminium are compatible with this technology.

According to the MX3D team, they combined an industrial robot with a welding machine to turn it into a 3D printer that works with their own software. The technology was developed through a collaboration with Air Liquide and ArcelorMittal.

A lot of Startups are exploring this technology. In 2017, the Royal BAM Group partnered with Eindhoven University of Technology to design a 3D printed concrete bridge for cyclists which was one of the first completed construction 3D printed bridge in the world. Also, XtreeE, a French startup, collaborated with Vinci Construction, an established French construction engineering company, to test the construction of complex structures though this method.


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