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Today's Most Popular Construction Tech


When you talk about technology within the construction world, lots of things come to the forefront pretty quickly, with each one seemingly more fantastic than the last; from AI & Machine Learning to Drone Cranes & Robots. The bigger construction sites today look more like a testing ground for Boston Dynamics as opposed to a pile of dirt and a few diggers sitting around. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that not since the industrial revolution have construction companies embraced so much new tech.


Now while all of these robots and drones are undoubtedly wonderful and being put to amazing use, no other new technology has captured the general public’s imagination quite the same as 3D Printing has managed, and this is for one very simple reason; it’s tangible. The idea that you could one day very soon live, work, attend school or watch a sporting event in a building which was printed as opposed to built is nothing short of brilliant, so it’s hardly surprising that this emerging technology is today at the top of so many wish lists. This was made very apparent to me a few weeks ago, when my 10 year old daughter told me (completely out of the blue mind you) that she wanted our next house to be a 3D Printed one.


But lets face it, we’re, as the construction industry, simply are’t there yet. This technology needs an adoption on mass before anyone who wants a 3D Printed house or office building can have one. As we prepare to wind down 2023 and prepare for 2024, only a tiny fragment of buildings erected this year were of the printed variety, something like between 300 & 500. In 2021 however, it is estimated that only ten (10) houses were 3D printed out of the total 912,000 built in the US. So it’s good to see that number is increasing and with that increase the popularity will grow and the tech will become more streamlined and even more efficient.


Apart from the sheer novelty of this tech, there are three major bonuses to a 3D Printed building; Cost, Time and Environment.


COST - While these 3D printers are said to provide buildings with a much cheaper price tag than the traditional alternative, the technology is still too new and not widespread enough yet for the average consumer or client to see those savings. But once this 3D novelty becomes the norm, building costs could be reduced up to 15% per square foot.


TIME - The traditional method of building a single-family home, which includes framing, drywalling, roofing, etc… takes roughly between 6 to 8 weeks and sometimes much longer. Compare that with the hours and days for the same house to be printed and it’s no contest. With a 3D printed house, you still need traditional roofers, plumbers and electricians to complete the project, but at this point I think it would be silly not to assume that someone somewhere is working on a tech alternative for those needs.


ENVIRONMENT - A 3D Printed structure has a significantly reduced impact on our environment. With the use of sustainable materials, less energy consumption and recycled waste materials. The building itself is also more carbon friendly with greater thermo-management which results in considerably less heating/cooling energy consumption.


With all that it would seem the public has a more than enough right to be utterly gaga with the idea of 3D Printed buildings and that’s a dreadful pity because unless you live in one suburb of Austin or in an experimental neighborhood somewhere in Dubai, you’re simply not getting into one anytime soon. And that leads me to the disadvantages of 3D printed buildings, but I warn you now, it’s a pretty short list.


When we talk about the disadvantages or cons of 3D Printed structures, the biggest one has to be the availability. As I mentioned above, there is literally no inventory. I’m sure that if you have enough money and are so taken with the idea of a 3D Printed space, you could get it sorted, but for the average home buyer or business owner, there is almost no chance. Will that change in 5 year or 10 years, undoubtedly yes, but to what degree who can say?


Then we come to things like the tech, building codes, software engineers and trained technicians. All of which currently fall into the CONS category, but that’s not exactly a blame which can be attributed to 3D Printed buildings as opposed to the industry itself. In the next 5 or 10 years will we see the industry embrace 3D Printed structures with updated building codes and new software degrees offered for aspiring students, sure, but we’ll also quickly see another disadvantage of the 3D Printed structure becoming a major talking point; the design.


At its current technology limit, the 3D Printer squeezes the concrete out of a tube, much like toothpaste, and builds the walls in a vertical series of concrete lines, one on top of another and another and another. While this again falls into the novelty category, I can see it getting visually old very fast. Not to mention it being an absolute nightmare to clean all the dust and debris which end up clinging to each mini concrete ledge. Some of the few 3D Printing companies have started to address this issue, but none have cracked it to build constant smooth walls.


Yet despite this toothpaste design flaw (and the need for a lifetime supply of feather dusters), I think I’d still have one, and no not just because my daughter wants one. These houses and buildings have an organic look & feel which the vast majority of traditional structures simply can not achieve without Frank Gary happening to be your uncle. This is a new kind of building which will allow for new kinds of activities, thoughts and purpose to occur in and around them. These structures and their mass appeal are a concrete sign (no pun intended) that we are witnessing the beginning of a true and meaningful technological revolution. The basic structures which we occupy today have changed very little in the past 500 years with almost no change in the past 100. This technology, once adopted by the populace at large will have a deep effect on how we interact with the structures we live in.


I am optimistic this change will be for the better, but exactly what that betterment will look like, who knows, but I think we can agree it’s an exciting prospect and one I’m looking forward to.


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Throughout this piece I have referred to 3D Printing and printed buildings as “New Technology”, but that’s not exactly true.


3D printing was technically invented way back in 1981 by Dr. Hideo Kodama, but it wasn’t till seven years later in 1988 when Chuck Hull tinkered with Kodama’s original machine, that we see something that we would recognize today as a 3D printer.


Now we come to the big one. The first 3D printed structure was made in 1939 by William E. Urschel for a small warehouse in Indiana. The following year in 1940, Herschel filed a number patents for a “Wall Building Machine”


Have a look at these incredible videos to se Urschel’s machine in action.



https://www.linkedin.com/posts/goran-kovacevic-956676a_concrete-without-forms-activity-7101926719065845760-o1UV/

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