The development of 3D printing is still in its infancy.
The construction of buildings with the assistance of 3D printers is booming. At least that’s the impression you get from reading popular internet sites, with regular reports of new projects. However, these articles are often describing prototypes or individual buildings. 3D printing is not being used in the construction industry across the board, but is actually still in its infancy—yet it has a great deal of potential.
The idea and the technology have been around for about fifteen years: individual modules or parts of houses are printed on site and can be assembled there. Still, there are already first printers that can seamlessly produce entire houses, and 3D printing applications are gradually advancing thanks to digitization. “It’s still being experimented with at the moment,” says Astrid Achatz. She is the managing director of the Fraunhofer Building Innovation Alliance and in this capacity is knowledgeable about the newest developments in the industry. “We’re mostly talking about individual cases. But every important technology started out small,” she explains. “I think this type of construction can quickly take off under the right conditions.”
A few high-profile projects are already pointing in the direction 3D printing may be heading. Just a few months ago, there were media reports about a Russian start-up company that was able to build a 38-square-meter house in just 24 hours. The costs for the entire house, including the roof and windows, were less than 10,000 euros. Several luxury mansions have been built in China and the United States, while an office complex was printed in Dubai. Projects are being realized in Italy and China where entire villages are taking shape through 3D printing.
“There are definitely countries pursuing a high degree of experimentation,” Achatz says. This is the case, for instance, in those countries where new homes cannot be printed fast enough. “In countries more conservative about building, such as Germany, digitization in the construction industry is running into more difficulties. Germans have very high expectations about construction quality—which is a good thing. At the same time, however, we should be careful that we not miss the boat with this technology.” Both the rapid, print-everything approach and the slower, more methodical approach are evolving as the techonology improves.
The printers themselves are currently developing at a rapid pace—however this is not a global phenomenon, but instead remains regional. While one company is driving high-rise construction, a thousand kilometers away another is experimenting with single-family homes, yet another is perhaps trying its hand at reproducing castles. Thus, at this time, no general comparisons can be made at all.