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3D printing - the revolution in the construction industry

13 Aug 2021

3D printing - the revolution in the construction industry

Printing out an entire house? This is no longer a vision of the future. A 3D-printed prototype was already created in Amsterdam in 2014. The first residential building in Germany, built layer by layer using concrete spraying, was completed last autumn in Beckum. Additive manufacturing of buildings and construction elements is still a niche business, but given its many advantages, there is no doubt that the combination of digital modelling and 3D printing will lead to a sustainable paradigm shift in the construction industry.

Mobile 3D systems for concrete printing have been in use since 2018 - and offer distinct benefits. They make it possible to produce complete building structures directly on the construction site by layering fibre-reinforced concrete in thick strands until the desired wall height has been reached. Downstream sub-trades can be integrated directly. This procedure saves time, resources and money - and represents a real revolution for the construction industry.

Unlike conventional construction methods, concrete pressure only processes as much material as is actually needed. Since an extremely large amount of CO2 is emitted during the production and processing of concrete, 3D printing not only offers economic but also ecological benefits. Further potentials arise from new intelligent materials such as shape memory alloys (so-called "memory metals") or bio-based materials, for example biocomposite granulates or carbon fibres from algae. In the future, they can help ensure that houses created using additive technology can be recycled in an environmentally friendly way.

Smart materials and unlimited design freedom

The use of new materials holds enormous opportunities and at the same time big challenges for additive manufacturing. After all, in construction, very different building materials such as concrete, wood, glass, metals, plastics, clay as well as composite materials have to be processed in high quality.

A wide range of applications for this is being developed or even ready for the market: for example, a Dutch company has created a 3D printer that can produce metal struts in almost any shape. A Bavarian company prints designer bathroom furniture from sand. NorDan from Sweden is the world's first manufacturer to launch 3D-printed windows - faster, cheaper and in higher quality than previously possible. The material used for the windows is a wood granulate with a high proportion of FSC-certified wood fibres; in combination with polypropylene, it can be processed additively and in many shapes: NorDan's windows, for example, are round.

Building elements and entire houses can be produced in all imaginable shapes using 3D printing. This almost limitless freedom of design is another decisive advantage of additive processes. Even highly complex building elements such as façade nodes are feasible. These elements are used in sophisticated façade designs to connect aluminium profiles with which panels made of different materials are attached. At the Technical University of Darmstadt, 134 of these complicated geometries were individually digitally optimised and printed. Now officially certified, they are currently being used in a building project that is unique in the world. This example also illustrates how the combination of digital design and additive manufacturing is driving highly innovative construction.

Discover the exciting possibilities of 3D printing for yourself. The special show "3D Printing - Additive Manufacturing" at the INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR from 6 to 9 March 2022 will demonstrate the potential of the various processes with live presentations and provide an outlook on innovative business models. Among the best practices, you will also find the wooden windows from NorDan as well as a sink made by Sandhelden from Bavaria.