Printing the Jobsite: 3-D Printing Technology Could Take Efficiency and Safety to a New Level

Written for Construction Business Owner, By James Benham

We may be far from walking up to a replicator like Picard did in Star Trek to order an “Earl Grey, hot,” but advancements in 3-D printing are proving that technology is on its way to making science fiction a reality.

Whether it’s printing a spare screwdriver or an iPhone mount for a GoPro base, consumer products such as the Makerbot Replicator 2X give us the ability to create plastic objects from 3-D models on a small scale. On the next level, engineering, architecture and construction research consulting firms are experimenting with materials other than plastic that would be more useful to structural printing, such as steel, ceramics and even hardened resin. From steel nodes to one-bedroom concrete houses, 3-D printing is happening around the world and will continue to get better at building bigger—and more safely.

The ultimate vision for commercial construction, as I see it, is a combination of several of the most advanced technologies in development, with 3-D printing being the final step. Starting with something as simple as a tablet, contractors will visit a jobsite and use a 3-D laser scanner to map the existing structure or environment. Using 5-D building information modeling (BIM), a model of the proposed project can be built with time and cost incorporated for project owners to see the full scope of a project—both monetarily and visually. After fully coordinating the models and running them through clash detection, all project participants can readily access these models through 3-D model rendering mobile applications in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for construction planning and progress. Finally, to-scale 3-D printers will print not only construction materials but entire structures on-site.

While it is not yet cost-effective nor widely available at the needed scale, 3-D printing will change how we build. It’s up to us to implement the technology that ensures how we build will change for the better.

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