Yes, an entire house can be 3D printed—and in 2014 Chinese company WinSun, one of the leaders in the field, printed 10 houses within 24 hours. Now the Iraqi government is turning to WinSun for possible post-war plans to rehabilitate the nation, with 10,000 theoretical housing projects being discussed.
Now, if you consider that the Saudi Arabian government has recently discussed with WinSun the construction of 1.5 million homes in their region…that’s a lot of 3D printed homes in the Middle East. And why not? It’s fast, it’s cheap…it’s even more sustainable, as the concrete for the homes is mixed with recycled waste products & only the exact pieces needed for the construction of the home are created.
That said, there are two main issues about 3D printed houses and buildings that might slow down its acceptance in the United States and other countries.
First, are these structures strong enough? Especially with the increased Earth changes due to climate change and fracking?
A potential downside to the combination of concrete and recycled materials is that they have different drying rates, possibly weakening their structural integrity. But if the materials are mixed with special bonding additives like super-strong Ductal, they should be relatively OK.
But while some of WinSun’s structures have been OK’d by the China Construction Bureau, there is no comprehensive building code specifically for 3D printed structures in China. As with many emerging technologies, 3D printing is growing so rapidly, governmental regulation agencies are having a hard time keeping up.
Secondly: what happens to all the “traditional” construction workers?
WinSun estimates that 3D printed housing manufacturing can cut labor costs anywhere from 50 to 80 percent, and production time from 50 to 70 percent. That sounds like, to me, that a lot of people are going to be out of work—especially laborers who might not have the technological skill set to take on the jobs that are left.
But then what is the solution to that? “Slow down” the expansion of the 3D printed housing market?
With millions of these homes set to go up in the Middle East in the possible near future, and a technology that can erect these structures in record time and for only a fraction of the cost…it seems like only a matter of time before 3D printing becomes a standard for construction.
In the United States, even a respected traditional architect and contractor like Adam Kushner—with over 25 years of experience, including building structures in Manhattan—has adopted 3D printing for a sprawling New York estate project.
So to me—barring some catastrophic disaster involving the structures—3D printing will be a new standard, along with other sustainable construction methods. But expect significant resistance along the way, as millions of workers are potentially displaced, and existing “traditional” construction companies who don’t adopt the new technology lobby to keep them from the wider marketplace.