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3D Printing and the Construction Industry

There is a change coming for many modern industries, and it has the potential to revolutionize the way that almost everything is built. 3D printing is gaining traction as more companies are able to access the technology for a variety of uses. With lower production costs and less waste, construction companies can take advantage of 3D printing to keep expenses down and ensure a more consistent product on a faster timeline.


How Does 3D Printing Work?

There are essentially two types of manufacturing: additive and subtractive. Subtractive manufacturing is the standard and involves the creation of a structure or part of a structure by stripping away the excess. For example, someone might build a frame by cutting pieces of wood or metal and putting them together. Additive manufacturing, often called “3D printing,” is a unique process that involves the building of a structure or its components by adding thin layers of a specific material on top of each other and sealing them together. The printing machine creates a product to fit the designer’s specifications, usually created through design software meant to integrate with the printer.

The process of 3D printing has the potential to save a lot of money for people in the construction industry. By decreasing waste and making products from smaller quantities of raw materials, construction companies do not have to maintain as much warehouse space to store those raw materials before they are used. Construction at all stages is a laborious process. With a printer able to manufacture a product based on a design with an exceptional level of accuracy, companies can get more work done in a shorter amount of time, requiring the work and attention of fewer employees.

Coping with waste and leftover materials after construction is complete is a significant problem for companies and municipalities. The waste created by construction on a national scale is about 50 million tons each year, and all that waste has to go somewhere. Additive manufacturing has the potential to decrease the amount of materials needed, thus lowering the byproducts left over. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 3D printing can cut down on material needs by as much as 90 percent, depending on the material and the project. With less waste, construction companies have fewer obligations to clean up and remove or store excess materials.

Finally, many aspects of the construction industry are dependent on materials that can be depleted, such as metals or wood, or products that pose certain concerns for the environment (e.g. concrete). The use of 3D printing allows builders to rely on materials that they may not have used before in certain types of construction, such as recycled plastics, polymers, or composites. Gypsum stone, a primary component in drywall, is a popular powdered material for use in 3D printing. Since many materials used in 3D printing can be easily repurposed for other uses once the product is no longer needed, construction companies can also reuse 3D-printed products instead of having to carry them away to a landfill.


Unique Effects of 3D Printing in Construction

As more manufacturers gain access to 3D printing technology, the whole industry may see significant effects. The most obvious is a change to the process of production and the extensive supply chain that businesses rely on. Instead of waiting for a subcontractor to receive raw materials and manufacture components needed for a construction project, a business owner might bring more of these tasks in-house with a 3D printer. Although additive manufacturing may decrease the number of workers who are needed in subtractive manufacturing, 3D printing’s rising popularity could create more work for people who know how to create the designs for the printer and who can use and maintain the machines themselves.

Using a 3D printer to manufacture products used in construction decreases waste and saves companies money. Due to competitive pricing on equipment, this manufacturing method is becoming more popular in the construction industry. Although the process is quite different from traditional methods, it has the potential to dramatically improve a construction business’s bottom line.