With the dawn of technological developments in automation within the construction industry, an observable shift in the construction process has taken place. 3D automated technologies are gradually emerging in the construction industry. Although, in its conception, 3D printing was expected to bring solutions to global citizens lacking access to affordable and safe accommodation.
A union of novel concrete mixtures, machinery, and state-of-the-art technology is championed to make a paradigm shift in the dynamics of the construction space. Critics predict that 3D printed concrete is soon becoming the preferred material of choice for building construction.
what is 3D printed concrete?
3D printed concrete is basically a special mix of concrete prepared specifically to flow easily through the printer nozzle. Structures built using 3D printed concrete are made on a series of fundamental concrete layers, with each layer lying on the previous layer. The series is repeated until a preferred structure is realized.
3D Concrete Printing is a pocket-friendly building method, eliminating the need for molding concrete into frameworks or molds. The curing of 3D concrete structures can take as low as 3 days, and complete structures may be constructed within hours, making this method a relatively cheaper and quicker alternative as compared to conventional methods.
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Practically, concrete is squeezed out of the 3D printer nozzle attached to a programmed robotic arm, either traveling or stationary along rails, layer upon layer in order to produce the desired structure such as interior or exterior walls, or components such as void or archway.
3D concrete printing promoters claim that it offers construction that is cheaper, environmentally friendly, and faster than traditional building techniques. They point to greater design flexibility, efficient use of materials, faster delivery, reduced wastage, environmentally friendly due to less noise pollution, and reduced cost of sustainability.
Industry experts identify 3D concrete printing technology with seamless production of models from numerical designs and availability of a vast range of geometries, something that is missing or costly to realize with the traditional processing methods. According to a market forecaster, SmarTech Publishing, the 3D printing construction industry is projected to be worth $40 billion by 2027.
The composition of 3D concrete mix is similar to those in other concrete mixtures: cement, water, and aggregates like stone or sand. The success of this recipe lies in the consistency and texture itself. In comparison with traditional methods, 3D concrete printing amounts to very little or completely no wastage of resources since no framework is needed during the construction process.
3D concrete printing also excludes the need for rigorous labor, with the possibility of creating complex structures within a very tight schedule. 3D concrete printing technology also offers limitless potential for efficiently constructing houses, bridges, and also barracks in war zones.
Advantages of 3D Concrete Printing
When put against conventional construction methods, 3D concrete printing method has a vast range of advantages. Some of these key benefits include:
With 3D concrete printing, builders and architects can inject novelty and creativity with ease in their designs, as the technology can be used to build asymmetric or intricate designs. 3D concrete printing enables engineers to create extruded surfaces and varying shapes under tight schedules with very minimal chances of human error encountered. This has been made possible due to the accurate deposition of material with state-of-the-art equipment.
The new mixes of concrete when integrated with foam will display thermal mass capabilities similar to that found in the traditional concrete. More advancements in the concrete mix formula comparable to this can make 3D concrete printing technology possible for mass scale production as we forge into the near future.
3D concrete printing does not require the use of the framework, hence mitigating wastage of raw materials during construction. The printer used for 3D concrete printing deposits a precise amount of cement at a time, lowering the CO2 emissions. This aids the industry in shifting towards sustainable, environment-friendly practices.
The construction space or industry is ranked the 7th most dangerous professional industry in the U.S. This accounts for 21% of the total deaths annually.
3D concrete printing technology replaces the need for many onsite labors with automated construction controlled by a few. Therefore, dangerous jobs that impact on-site safety of workers can be eliminated entirely from the construction process.
Unlike the traditional construction techniques, 3D concrete printing doesn’t require workers to fill molds manually, essentially removing the need for frameworks and castings. Engineers can also ensure that they are within the set budget by saving on material, and labor costs, saving on time, and operating at a constant rate. These factors when combined make 3D concrete printing cost-effective.
The ability to construct under tight schedules also makes 3D concrete printing one of the best solutions for construction accommodation structures during crises caused by natural disasters such as floods.
The use of hardened cement paste, that is resistant to cracking, may also enhance resilience to 3D printed concrete, ranking the best for the mass-scale rehabilitation projects.
Limitations and inconveniences of 3D concrete printing
- Legal obstacles
The legal framework required for 3D concrete printing is apparently limited. This has created a lot of uncertainty regarding the rights of manufacturers, constructors, and owners. The regulations require further development on various topics such as social implications, environmental impact, the outcome on the labor industry, and safety. Apparently, it is an uncharted sector when viewed with legal lenses.
- Unsuitable for all environments
The concrete mixture reacts in an unstable manner when subjected to higher temperatures due to its hydration process. This causes a problem when pumping the concrete mixture in smooth layers under extreme temperature or weather conditions. For instance, 3D concrete printed samples tested in desert regions have resulted in poor outcomes. However, extensive research is being carried out on batter formulas since 3D concrete printing is the future of affordable housing.
- Limitations due to size of equipment
For 3D concrete printing technology, printers should be of substantial size, preferably, larger than the project. This may call for custom-made printing equipment tailor-made to the project at hand, which may be costly.
Apparently, 3D concrete technology is still in the testing stage where several prototypes of equipment, techniques, and formulas are being tested. Since, equipment is the costliest component of any 3D concrete printing project, producing automated machinery is obviously an expensive investment. Therefore, larger constructions with 3D concrete printing technology are not viable, making this technology more suitable for smaller projects only.
3D concrete printing within the construction industry helps save effort, material, and time compared to traditional construction techniques. However, it is vital to note that 3D printers are still incapable of printing big, fully functional houses.
Only the walls and frames of the house are built using 3D printing technology; other elements, such as electricity, plumbing, or windows must be installed separately. However, 3D concrete printers may also be used to print benches, bridges, or even outdoor decorations.