3-D printing has already allowed civilians to build their own functional artificial limbs, auto parts, and even firearms. But to the majority of the U.S. population, 3-D printing remains far more of a niche hobby than a sustainable business model.
But the advent of 3-D printing technology that uses materials like wood pulp, cement, and aluminum seems poised to reshape the entire construction industry. Already, leading 3-D manufacturers have shown that they can produce an entire 3-D printed house within 48 hours and for a total material cost of under $10,000. Other companies are using 3-D printed molds to create concrete building casts, reducing the cost of molds while seriously speeding up the building process.
Two Main Paths to 3-D Printed Construction
Industry experts have identified two primary ways in which 3-D printing will impact the way material suppliers, developers, and laborers will do business.
The first involves the use of 3-D printing to create molds, interactive building models, and other components that aren't incorporated into the final product but are vital to project development. For many companies, these paths are already being explored—using 3-D printing to create items like wood molds, which are time-consuming and require a skilled hand, can provide a major source of savings for cost-conscious developers.
But another way in which builders are planning to use 3-D printing is by "printing" the building components themselves. Using liquified wood pulp, concrete, or metal in a specialized 3-D printer, designers can print everything from concrete blocks to screws to vinyl siding to aluminum posts. Being able to factory-produce products that are measured to precise specifications will reduce waste and make the building process as straightforward as assembling a Lego set.
The Future of Building?
Although these technologies show incredible promise, some of the larger-scale building projects (like the $10,000 3-D printed house) are still in the early development stages. It's likely that most builders will continue working with current technologies for the next decade. Still, prepare to see some big changes soon as 3-D printing technologies are incorporated into more and more contexts.