Are 3D printing technologies and robots the future of construction?

15 June 2016

Technology is advancing at accelerated speeds, which would have been thought of as unthinkable just a few decades ago. Artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing are just a few of the technologies that are having a profound effect on almost every industry, inevitably creating a domino effect on sectors contained within and relative to them.

Workers have been constructing buildings, bridges roads, canals and amphitheatres since before history records began. Developments in structural engineering paved way for magnificent feats built by ancient civilizations, many of which are still intact today.

Throughout both ancient and medieval history, with limited understandings of the theories behind architecture, builders still managed to create incredible structures based on empirical evidence alone.

After centuries of study in the craft of architecture, construction and structural engineering, we live in a world where incredible buildings scatter the cities and suburbs.

It’s not uncommon for miles of shopping malls to be entwined with green space, skyscrapers being so high – the human eye can’t see the pinnacle or for rivers to reflect skies of colourful, reflective mirrored windows.

Structures and buildings really have become – not just finished projects, but results of not just construction but combinations of art, vision and design.

Construction probably isn’t the first industry you would think of when looking at 3D printing and how it will help it to evolve, but it’s being used more widely, with astonishing results.

Recently, the ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has built the world’s first office, completely made from 3D printing technology.

The office, took just 17 days to build with a printing machine which measured 20 x 120 x 40 feet long.

The 250 square-metre development, installed on the site of the Emirates Towers, used just 18 staff in total, including the printer operator.

After this first development, the Dubai government plans to continue with this as a benchmark for their future ‘3D printing strategy’.

The ruler of Dubai intends for 25% of construction projects to be 3D printed by 2030. The Dubai media office announced that starting in 2019, the increase in 3D printing will grow 2% each year.

With such ambitious (and seemingly achievable) targets, if this first office is anything to go by, it would be safe to argue that many other countries will adopt this technology to not only compete but to also be pioneers n construction technologies also.

3D printing, also referred to as AM (additive manufacturing) is the sequential layering of materials. The result is 3D shapes or configurations.

First developed in the 1980s, 3D printing was expensive and problematic to operate. However, since 2000, it has become more affordable and easier to use. It has become an instantaneous solution for product design and the manufacture of tools, components, plastics and many consumables.

Since 2005, 3D printers have become a practical solution for businesses, with the potential for savings in cost and labour huge.

In the UK, researchers at the School of Civil and Building Engineering at Loughborough University have been developing 3D printers and technology for the construction industry for ten years.

Their teams have produced printers which “…precisely deposit successive layers of high-performance concrete to form complex structural components – such as curved cladding panels and architectural features – that cannot be manufactured by conventional processes.”

In November 2014, working with construction group Skanksa, the university helped to create a concrete-printing robot, believed to be the world’s first.

With 3D printing and robotics becoming more commonplace in many industries, construction may be one of the first industries as a whole to adopt to such developments, with results that will be interesting to see.

3D printing in construction

3D printing – working with business

Dubai opens world’s first 3D printed office