A Guide to the Future: 3D Printing and Construction

Apprentice with 3D printed part, close up
Apprentice with 3D printed part, close up. Monty Rakusen // Getty Images

3D printing is changing construction, and many construction pros are alarmed by the changes. Mechanization essentially killed farming in the United States; in 1900, farming made up 38% of America’s workforce. Today, farmers account for less than one percent. The same consequences have the potential to obliterate American construction jobs. Even as experts predict that construction will “take off,” 3D printing has the potential to wreck future employment opportunities that arise from new contracts.

But maybe it’s time for construction to enter the automation age. Behrokh Khoshnevis, a University of Southern California professor who helped build a construction 3D printing company called Contour Crafting, said during a Ted Talk, “If you look around yourself, pretty much everything is made automatically today—your shoes, your clothes, home appliances, your car… The only thing that is still built by hand are these buildings.”

He adds, “Construction as we know it today is wasteful, costly, and often over budget.”

Cost Savings on Supplies

For construction managers, 3D printing might be a godsend. For example, WinSun, a China-based 3D printing construction company, “expects 3D printing will save construction companies up to 50% on the cost” of building a house.

Greener Construction

Part of these savings will appeal to environmentalists and humanitarians. For example, Wealth Daily expects that “The use of lumber in the home’s framework would be spared.” That’s great news for “green” home builders (and a looming threat to the lumber industry).

Global Development

3D printing also provides a cheap outlet to create homes for people in developing countries and for people in destitute areas.  It’s an opportunity to create shelter for those who could not previously afford it.

Speedier Project Planning

Furthermore, 3D printing will affect the design stage of construction.

Modelers can quickly “print” a mockup of a building or a house, making it easy for construction companies and their customers to experiment and tinker with design ideas. These mockups could also help construction companies identify flaws and pain points before construction even begins—a potential avenue to prevent project delays.

Clearer Client Expectations

Finally, 3D printing can help build a stronger relationship between construction managers and their customers. Now, more than ever before, customers with no architectural background can communicate their wants and needs before a project begins.

Of course, 3D printing won’t solve all of construction’s problems. The industry still needs to recruit young talent to ensure its survival in the future. And 3D printing won’t entirely replace the need for a human architect to figure out the logistics of planning and constructing a building. But in time, it will make construction more environmentally friendly and more profitable.