3D printing, particularly of houses, could revolutionise the industry

Pete Baxter

I couldn’t help but be drawn to the recent story about houses in China that have been designed and constructed using 3D printed technology. Given we’re still facing an acute housing shortage in the UK, one which poses a major risk to the UK economy, this new building technique could be especially important.

While the capabilities of 3D printing have very much remained within the manufacturing sphere, this development (while still a long way off from becoming the norm) shows where the building and construction industry could be heading in the not too distant future.

While it may be a long way off, industry leaders need to recognise that change is coming

If you think of 3D printed houses, the term “mass-production” no doubt immediately springs to mind. Previous experience with mass-production, especially in the pre-fab era, has not been a good one, with the houses produced characterised by poor design and build quality and durability. However, 3D printing technology will allow the building industry to adopt some of the best practices from the manufacturing sector and take advantage of the benefits of manufacture and assembly within a controlled environment.

The ability to print modular components, like the manufacturing industry has already grown accustomed to, will eventually allow greater customisation when it comes to design, but with the convenience and ease of mass-production. With this idea of “mass-customisation” in mind, we could even see buyers having the ability to customise their homes before they go in to production in a similar experience to ordering a new car.

So, what does this mean for the future of the housing industry? The ability to 3D print houses, and even larger structures, will ultimately lead to a new aesthetic, but more importantly give more control over quality to the designer. This means the process of physical construction will continue to evolve. Most significantly, there’ll be a sizeable reduction in waste through the manufacture and assembly processes as on-site modifications are reduced.

Perhaps more importantly it may mean the industry can respond more quickly to the pressure for more low cost homes in key locations. While it may be a long way off, industry leaders need to recognise that change is coming. As with any new technology, 3D printing in the construction industry will shape our sector in a number of positive ways, from new methods of construction to new performance standards, and new materials. Smart designers will take 3D printing and use it to create a different approach, inspiring a new aesthetic and changing the construction industry for years to come.

Pete Baxter is vice president for engineering, natural resources and infrastructure sales for Autodesk in EMEA