One of the most eye-catching technological innovations in recent years is 3D printing — a technology that has numerous potential uses in multiple industries and in particular has great potential for use in construction.
What links novelty personalised figurines, prosthetic body parts, components for cars and fighter jets, jewellery, guitars — and now, houses?They’re all on the list of objects that have been created using 3D printing technology. And while some of those projects will probably prove to be passing fads — feel free to take a moment at this stage to Google the inexplicable Japanese trend of printing models of Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves looking sad, if you really must — the use of 3D printing to produce entire buildings is gathering momentum.A few years ago, 3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM) was used in the construction sector mainly to produce construction components and niche parts, such as interior-decorating features, lighting effects and furniture. In recent years construction companies and national governments raised the bar with ambitious projects to 3D-print bigger and bigger structures. The goal was set: 3D print entire buildings. The challenge was laid down and the industry could only wait for the first buildings to rise. And they did. In several countries 3D-printed projects have been initiated, and in some they have now been finished. That is the case in Dubai, where the world’s first 3D-printed office building has recently opened its doors. The 250sq m single-storey building has been built in just 17 days using a 20ft tall 3D printer and a special mix of concrete — fibre-reinforced plastic and glass fibre-reinforced gypsum. The gigantic printer was 120ft long and 40ft wide and ‘worked’ almost alone, as it only needed one staffer to make sure it was functioning properly. The rest of the 18-person construction crew consisted of installers, electricians and mechanical engineers who completed the project for just a mere $140,000 in construction and labour costs, about half price of a comparable structure built using conventional methods. The building is set to have a practical use as the temporary headquarters for the Dubai Future Foundation, becoming home of Dubai’s Museum of the Future next year. The opening follows the launch of the ‘Dubai 3D Printing Strategy’ and the forecast that a quarter of buildings in Dubai will have 3D-printed elements by 2030.