Kelly Kienapple and Tiffany Ramiro

The 3D printing process is constantly evolving and improving its ability to create with biodegradable, recycled and earth-based materials. 3D printing is a sustainable alternative method that can be adapted into existing construction methods to improve efficiency, reduce material waste and reduce required labour. We will briefly examine the capabilities of 3D printing and explain how including this process can benefit the construction industry. 

3D Printing Requirements 

  • Digital 3D model of structure
  • Printing machine suited to the size of the project
  • Appropriate filament, often a type of concrete within construction printing
  • Electricity and heat to output the filament according to planned model
  • As few as 2 workers to supervise and execute the 3D printing process 

How is the process sustainable? 

3D printing is continuously being adapted to meet sustainable needs of the planet.  Sustainability includes the practice of using natural, renewable and recycled materials in production to reduce long term impacts on the environment. This includes the creation of new printable materials made of recycled substances. For example, used cooking oil has been repurposed into a biodegradable plastic filament for use in 3D printers (1).  

Environmental Solutions

There are endless possibilities for how 3D printing can be applied to create sustainable solutions. In particular, the printer manufacturer COBOD is printing raised platforms for wind turbines to raise the blades and improve efficiency by up to 30% (2). 3D printing can also have a positive impact through the repair of natural structures that have suffered from human activities; printing coral reefs is an attainable solution to foster growth within ocean life (3). Additionally, there is experimentation being conducted by WASP with the printing of houses made entirely from raw earth-sourced materials (4).

3D Printing Construction vs Traditional Construction

The 3D printing process streamlines the necessary steps within a construction project, creating less waste and requiring less labour. The image below illustrates a comparison between traditional construction processes and 3D printing methods (5).

Within construction, 3D printing has the ability to create customized placements for structural elements of buildings with layers of material based on raw earth byproducts such as sand, silt, clay, gravel, mud, and water that make up process specific cement formulations. Due to the specific placement of materials formed by a 3D printer, there is no longer a need to carve out doorways and windows from a giant wall-slab of concrete. The appropriate amount of material is placed by the printer to create negative spaces as desired, reducing material waste, required time, costs as well as minimizing labour (6). 

A benefit of adopting 3D printing into traditional construction methods is how the process reduces the overall time it takes to produce a complete structure. Namely, COBOD’s updated 3D construction printer called BOD2 is able to print using partially recycled material at speeds up to 60 meters / minute (7).   

3D Printing is the Future of Construction

Overall, 3D printed construction is a more sustainable, less dangerous and more controlled method that requires fewer resources and less manual labour than traditional construction methods.