Skip to content

Building Something: 3D Printing and Homebuilding Goes Mainstream

3D printing was initially thought of by much of the general public as somewhat of a niche technology: a small-scale curiosity with intriguing potential perhaps, but hardly the kind of industry-altering transformative tech with the potential to literally and figuratively reshape the world. Not only is that perception outdated, but the rapid growth of innovative 3D printing technologies used for architecture and construction is providing the kind of unmistakable proof that 3D construction printing is here in a big way.

Integrating additive manufacturing (AM) technologies and perspectives into an industry as tradition-driven as construction is not always easy. From perception problems to ingrained industry inertia, changing long-held assumptions and familiar materials and processes takes time. The fit is a good one, however. In construction, an industry long-plagued by notoriously slow-moving build times and delays, a technology that is fundamentally designed to optimize production and create things faster and more efficiently is a true game-changer. The opportunity to produce the same or better product significantly faster is a big deal, with significant ramifications for everything from build cost to quality.

Homebuilding with scaled up 3D printing technology works by laying down a series of individual layers of extruded concrete. The machinery that achieves this can be assembled on-site in just hours. In a relatively short period of time, those layers add up to vertical volume, and the walls of a residential home (or other structure) rise in place. What kind of time savings are we talking about? To put it into perspective, consider that a traditional 1,200 square-foot home that may take up to 8 or 9 months to erect using traditional construction techniques can have walls “printed” in around one week. That staggering speed becomes even more exciting when you consider how rapidly the technology is advancing and the potential for future innovation that exists in this expanding space.

Built-in Advantages

The speed of 3D printing a home is obviously the biggest difference-maker. Traditional construction is a labor-intensive process. And when paying workers by the hours, time is money. Saving lots of hours saves lots of money. All told, 3D printing could save up to 30% versus traditional construction in large scale repetitive projects using local concrete materials. With the underlying technology getting better and more optimized with each passing year, that speed—and those savings—will only become more evident. At a time when labor challenges in construction continue to be a costly and concerning obstacle, low-labor solutions are particularly appealing.

3D printing construction techniques are flexible and can be used almost anywhere. When planning a big project, traditional homebuilders often purchase large amounts of building material at the start of the year to try and avoid inflation and other price fluctuation. With 3D printing, however, precise insight into the exact material amounts needed for a project can reduce waste and lower costs, optimizing cost predictability. The precision and reliability of the process also avoids delays and rework. 3D printing with concrete comes with the added benefit of using a strong, sustainable, and durable material that yields structures that are 2-3 times stronger than traditional brick or block homes.

Today and Tomorrow

This is an exciting time for a technology and an application that is at an inflection point. Public awareness is growing. Companies are sprouting up. 3D printed homes are increasingly common, and the tone of media coverage has shifted from looking at these structures as novelties to covering the many advantages of 3D printed homebuilding. Technologies in this space are advancing rapidly and the regulatory climate around these products and processes is maturing. The need for rapid and affordable construction in the wake of high-profile natural disasters like the fires in California and Hawaii only makes 3D construction even more attractive.

Awareness generates its own momentum with products that are so visible. A 3D printed home is not abstract or conceptual—it is substantive and attention-getting. As more people are becoming aware of 3D printed homebuilding, a new generation of professionals is entering the field, excited to be part of a booming industry. There is room for innovation and fresh ideas in a growth industry where integrating a wide range of technologies promises to only accelerate the pace of innovation. For example, introducing AI tools into the mix comes with the prospect of rapid advancements in AM and 3D printing—unlike traditional construction, where there are few, if any, tools capable of leveraging and optimizing AI.

It isn’t just residential 3D building that has been booming. We are also seeing expansion in the industrial space, with 3D construction being adopted by materials companies, energy companies, and traditional construction operators to build everything from windmills and warehouses to retail stores and landscaping elements. New printers are capable of printing a mind-blowing range of new geometries: everything from lawn furniture to massive and complex industrial forms.

It is that pace of innovation that makes events like RAPID + TCT so valuable to anyone who works in this space. It is genuinely important for representatives from our industry to be there to continue to spread awareness, sharing with and learning from our peers and some of the brightest minds in this exploding technology sector. There is so much energy, creativity, and generosity at events like RAPID and in the industry as a whole, that it’s hard not to come away not only with new ideas and new connections, but with an extraordinary sense of optimism about the future of AM and 3D printing. As a professional community, we really are building something special together.