How Can Additive Building Make its Mark On The Construction Industry?

11 July 2018 Kingspan Group

Additive Building Manufacturing (ABM) has begun to affect nearly every industry from art to fashion and even medicine. It makes creating unique structures with unprecedented properties possible. ABM is now starting to make its mark on the construction industry, through the 3D printing of buildings and building components.

Apis Cor were the first company to assemble a mobile 3D printer capable of printing buildings from the inside, Winsun has developed the first continuous 3D printer for construction - printing their first batch of 10 houses in 2013. Other companies embracing 3D printing are MX3D who develop robotic additive manufacturing technology and NASA are planning to use the technology to build bases on both Mars and the Moon.

ABM can reduce construction time, material and transport costs, improve worker safety standards and has many environmental benefits. However, as with all new technologies, there are challenges to large-scale implementation. 

Forward-thinking head of Building Information Modelling (BIM) for Kingspan, Brian Glancy, believes that the more machines can be brought on site the more data driven and connected they can become. 

The beauty of a mechanical site is that machines can work 24/7. They can also be monitored remotely and be plugged into BIM for greater accuracy. What we see as building projects now, will in the future be seen as data projects.

Current ABM systems are difficult to deploy on construction sites due to their large size and fixed 3D Print build volumes, meaning they currently cannot cope with the complexities of most building scenarios. At the moment, simple things like weather can affect ABM systems which means that predominantly, they are being used in factory controlled settings to manufacture building parts such as joints.

Due to these current limitations, it is unlikely that traditional methods of construction will be forgotten. Brian agrees that more research needs to be done before the technology becomes mainstream in the industry.

Success will be about the medium. More research needs to go into material development so that 3D printing can reach its full potential. There is a concept that in the future materials will not be delivered to site. The 3D printer will be plugged into the ground and take the available materials from its surroundings.

Research has already gone into this theory using sand on a beach. A solar-powered robotic 3D printer has been developed that can create entire buildings out of sand. The robotic device blends sand sourced on-site with a binder (which is composed of LEED-Certified components), and then sprays the mixture onto a surface. As the machine works, the material solidifies allowing it to create sculptural forms.

Brian believes that the real opportunity for additive manufacturing lies with the architects and engineers in the construction industry where this technology will really shine.

3D printing will give greater freedom and expression to architects and engineers to explore form in a bigger way. It will take the chains off architects and designers. Progressive architectural firms will be early adopters of this, it will give them the ability to offer unique opportunities for design.

Brian believes that the introduction of this technology to on-site construction will be a slow one.

3D printing may improve efficiency but capital investment will be needed. It could also open up the construction industry to other companies, e.g. tech companies, who may see it as another revenue stream. This will not happen in the next five or even 10 years.

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