A subcontractor not making it, a supplier failing to make a delivery, equipment breaking down, and key personnel falling ill — any of these and more can make construction slow to a crawl.
Construction projects being what they are, delays lead to increased costs due to crashing and penalties or to increased exposure due to fast-tracking. Furthermore, when you use both project optimization techniques in combination, you increase both your costs and risks.
There is hope things can be better, however. Technology is constantly evolving and has already yielded one method — construction 3D printing — that can help minimize the challenges for project managers everywhere. Read on for the ways 3D printing can help make construction projects more efficient and cost-effective.
1. Creation of Scale Models
At the very least, 3D printing can help construction professionals, particularly architects, create scale models. Scale models let architects and construction teams check whether their blueprints are aligned with client expectations. If they’re not, you can make adjustments early on before you dig the first hole.
Scale models can therefore save a construction team from aggravation. Client discontent is easier to address when he can tell you, by pointing at the scale model, which part it is exactly that he finds deficient.
The 3D Printing Advantage
With 3D printing, architects and contractors can create scale models at a fraction of the time it takes to make scale models by hand. Something that used to take weeks, you can now complete in just one day. Additionally, 3D printed models are always precise.
Unlike scale models built by hand, 3D printed scale models are precise iterations of computer-generated 3D models. Therefore, you can be sure that execution faithfully follows the vision in 3D scale models.
2. Production of Scale Mockups
Some construction companies involved in commercial, residential development, and other big-budget projects find that full-scale mockups are essential time- and cost-saving tools of construction.
Thus, a construction company in charge of creating a residential tower can create a scale mockup of an individual unit in the building. Likewise, a company in charge of a residential development can create a scale mockup of a completed house.
Why Build Scale Mockups?
Scale mockups look and are configured exactly like would-be finished units. They serve the following purposes:
- Test structural and aesthetic elements
For instance, you can see if specific window configurations lead to leaks.
- Bring vision to life
They’re like architectural models, in this case. However, since they’re full-size, they allow clients to “walk through” a representation of the finished product.
- Bring team members on the same page
They give project leads a visual aid to use in teaching team members about how to put together different building components correctly.
- Provide a convenient way of checking
They give construction teams a way to check building configurations when in doubt. For instance, you can check the ductwork on the mockup if a team member has questions, so you won’t have to tear completed drywall and ceiling off actual units.
The 3D Printing Advantage
With 3D printing, construction teams can create scale mockups in-house. This saves you time; you won’t have to outsource the work to third-party providers.
Third-party contractors that provide scale mockups, on the other hand, can continue to do so. If you are such a provider, you can offer better service because you won’t have to take as long to create scale mockups. It should also take fewer people to finish a mockup.
Through 3D printing, construction teams can also create mockups of building components for exhaustive testing and analysis. For instance, you can print a mockup of a wall section. Then, you can use it in your discussions with trade providers on how connections will be made and conflicts avoided.
3D printing cuts the time it takes to create scale mockups. This is the obvious boon of 3D printing in construction. It also has the potential of changing established construction workflows for the better.
By making it easy and cost-efficient to create full-size scale mockups of projects and building components, 3D printing makes it practical for construction teams to incorporate the creation of scale mockups in projects both big and small.
3. Prefabrication of Building Components
The advances in 3D printing and materials technology mean you can print actual building components.
Forward-thinking construction companies use 3D printers to prefabricate partition walls and even exterior walls offsite. These are then transported to building sites, placed on pre-poured slab foundations, then reinforced with steel, as needed. These 3D printed walls and partitions already have insulation built-in and the requisite space or allotment for electrical conduits and water pipes.
Through 3D printing, you can also prefabricate many other components for easy installation on site. Such components include storm drains, decks and patios, ceilings, columns, and beams.
The 3D Printing Advantage
When you can prefabricate components in a factory, you can avoid specific issues that typically accompany in-situ builds.
For instance, adverse weather conditions can prevent the operation of certain equipment. They can even incapacitate your personnel. Flooding can also lead to additional steps; you will have to dewater the site before proceeding with construction.
In contrast, factories are controlled environments. Even if it’s raining, snowing, or hailing outside, you and your team can continue to print building components. You can therefore avoid the delays caused by adverse weather conditions.
It’s also much faster to 3D-print components in a factory then assemble them onsite. In California, Palari Homes and Mighty Buildings build and sell 3D-printed homes. They prefabricate the components in a factory then put these together on site. The incredible thing about it is that it takes them less than 24 hours to complete a house.
4. Printing Buildings Onsite
You’ve already probably heard about buildings entirely 3D printed onsite. In this setup, a robotic arm (or two) — the 3D printer — extrudes a proprietary concrete mixture layer by layer. The 3D printer follows the computer-aided design or CAD file to build the entire structure from the ground up and from start to finish.
The 3D Printing Advantage
The time and cost savings of construction 3D printing are undeniable. The Chinese company, Winsun, used 3D printed components to build 10 215-square-foot houses in one day. They also made a 2,700-square-foot office building in Dubai in 17 days. Winsun mainly used prefabricated, 3D-printed components. However, in their Dubai office build, they used a combination of prefabrication and onsite 3D printing.
All in all, their construction 3D printing method saved the company both time and money, shaving 30% off the typical construction schedule and 80% off standard construction costs. It also reduced their material wastage by 30-60%.
Saving Time and Money With 3D Printing
Construction is an industry fraught with uncertainty because of the myriad factors always in play. However, 3D printing changes all that. With 3D printing, you will need fewer people, require a shorter time to complete builds, and waste less materials. The result is significant savings in both cost and time.
Antoine El Kara is the Managing Director at Dynagraph, the leading player in the Middle Eastern graphics industry, specializing in offset, large format and 3D printing. A pioneer and early-adopter, backed by solid business sense and a well-defined support structure, Dynagraph offers a comprehensive range of tailor-made solutions, services and products, from preprint, print and post-print, to corrugating, converting and packaging solutions.
Also published on Medium.