3D printing is often called a “disruptive” technology, meaning one which will have a major impact on multiple industries. As an example, personal computers were also considered disruptive technology. Also called “rapid prototyping”, 3D printing allows for unique items to be made at greater speed and lower cost than traditional manufacturing processes. It is, however, more expensive for mass production. That is to say, it is better to use 3D printing if you want one of something and traditional processes if you want 1,000. Construction, however, is something of a special case. 3D printing also allows the on-site creation of large parts of a building, which means that only raw materials need to be transported.

So, how will 3D printing transform the building industry? There are several trends already in existence that give us some clues:

Small Houses

3D printing can be used to make small, extremely cheap buildings to house the poor, especially in developing countries. New Story is working towards building 100 3D-printed houses in El Salvador. Using their technology, a three-room, one-story concrete home can be built in a day for a cost of only $4,000. There are regulatory obstacles towards using these techniques in developed countries. If those can be overcome, then 3D printed houses may, for example, replace the traditional mobile home park.

These houses may also be more resistant to damage from weather. In tornado alley, a dome-shaped design could have a far higher chance of surviving a hit, and this technology could place these within reach of not just the middle class, but the poor. Other homes could be designed to resist hurricanes or to perch above flooding. 3D printing allows for the construction of designs which would otherwise be difficult or ridiculously expensive.

Construction time will be dramatically reduced. 24 hours is standard for 3D printing a home, as opposed to six or seven months. This could result in a significant reduction in housing shortages worldwide, reducing the number of homeless individuals living on the street and may prove cheaper than putting up homeless families in hotels or other temporary accommodation.

Office Buildings

3D printing a model of a skyscraper
The close up of a modern 3D printer creating a model of skyscraper while adding all little details.

Offices are next. Dubai’s Museum of the Future has a demonstration office built using a 3D printer. While we aren’t going to be 3D printing skyscrapers any time soon, small “industrial park” type offices are well within the reach of the technology. 3D printed interior walls could be designed to be easily removed and replaced, allowing for faster redesign of layout when an office changes hands.

Restorations Made Cheaper

Restoration could also be made cheaper. Older buildings often have interesting brick and stone patterns. By 3D scanning surviving shaped stone, concrete duplicates could be made that would exactly resemble the individual, rather than hiring a craftsman. Of course, some people might prefer handmade duplicates for their authenticity. For new buildings, 3D printing provides a quicker way of building decorative elements. How about a 3D printed gargoyle?

A Work in Progress

None of this is going to happen tomorrow. For example, replacing mobile home parks with 3D printed concrete homes faces a number of regulatory obstacles, such as coming up with ways to inspect and approve these kinds of buildings. And so far, a 3D printer can’t lay pipe, insert rebar, or install electric cable. In the future, robots may take over that stage. The consensus, however, is that 3D printing will ultimately reduce housing costs, disrupt the construction industry. It may even lead to disposable houses, which are knocked down when the person moves, and then the raw materials are used to create a new home for the next resident. Or not. Leading industry experts are still not sure what will happen, but speculating leads us down some interesting roads.

Learn More About 3D Printing

For more information about 3D printed homes, home design, and to look into having your new home designed and built to your specifications, talk to 90 Decibels today.