The art of construction has been around for centuries, but what keeps it interesting is the availability of new materials and new ways of using old materials. For example, concrete and wood aren’t new materials, but there are some newer applications using them that can revolutionize the way you’ve always done your work.

Poured concrete has been tried-and-true technology for years, but 3-D printing has been available for only a decade. Putting the two together can really push the envelope.  Using a 3-D printing process to lay concrete seems almost space-age in that a master computer controls the material distribution, laying the concrete a layer at a time. Newer machinery to distribute concrete on a bigger scale has only recently become available, but initial tests show promising results.

3-D concrete applications can save on materials by minimizing waste and reducing cure times. In theory, with bigger machinery designed for on-site concrete distribution, the process could create skyscrapers from bottom to top; however, the more likely use at this time is using the technology to build components in factories. Once the pieces cure in a very controlled environment, they’d be trucked to the building site.

Wood is another material that’s been around for ages, but never quite like this. Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is dubbed as “plywood on steroids.” The panels are engineered by stacking beams lengthwise and perpendicularly; and then they’re glued and clamped together until the glue dries for increased adhesion. Once the panels are built, they’re approximately six inches thick, making them strong and durable.

Their use in construction is simple – an architect uses a computer-aided design program which turns all of the specs into material routers that cut and shape the panels within a millimeter of their original specifications. The finished panels can then be assembled like furniture, reducing construction times significantly. CLT construction is up to 15 percent less expensive than more traditional steel beam and concrete construction.  

Other considerations are environmentally friendly solutions. Wood on its own is a renewable resource, and it insulates far better than either concrete or steel, helping to reduce the need for more heating and cooling energy.

The bottom line is that there are new ways to use familiar materials. When you keep tabs on what’s going on in your industry, you can leverage that information to better serve your customers.