If you’ve been keeping up the with news lately, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the wonders of 3-D printing, the process of creating solid, three-dimensional objects from a digital blueprint. There are a number of truly amazing stories out there describing how people have made everything from hearing aids to, more controversially, firearms with these machines. While 3-D printers are generally used to produce smaller items, some engineers have set their sights on creating something bigger…a lot bigger: Full-sized houses.
The concept of 3-D printing is not a new one; it’s been around for over 30 years. Its recent popularity, however, can be attributed to technological advances that have reduced the cost and size of the printers while diversifying the types of materials that 3-D printers can work with.
So how is it done? Well, a designer uses specialized drafting software to create a three-dimensional computer model of a desired object. The printer will then build the object by transferring the chosen material (such as plastic, metal, or concrete) to a platform, stacking layer upon tiny layer until the item is complete.
If you’re wondering whether a 3-D printer can create an entire home, the answer is ‘sort of’: At this point, only smaller structures can be manufactured as a single piece. The printers are currently capable of creating a home’s individual pieces, which can then be assembled by a construction crew. In fact, a Chinese company has already printed and assembled numerous concrete structures, including a mansion and a five-story building.
While the use of 3-D printers for homebuilding is in its infancy, one can see some of the exciting possibilities. For instance, since a home’s components can be manufactured on sight, the costs and delays associated with standard transportation can be significantly limited. This feature could also make construction in remote areas far more feasible and cost-effective. Plus, 3-D printers are fast, with manufacturing times calculated in days, or even hours, opposed to weeks.
Benefits such as these would significantly decrease production times and labor costs while increasing efficiency, a formula that could pay dividends for manufacturers and home-buyers alike.
So will the 3-D printing of homes revolutionize the construction industry? Experts aren’t convinced quite yet, believing that printed homes will likely be limited to developing nations and areas of rapid population growth where traditional construction businesses simply can’t meet demand. However, given the technology’s trajectory, it may not be far-fetched to think that, one day, building a home could be as simple as pushing a button.