If you live in a major city, the sight of cranes littering the skyline is a familiar sight. It’s the best technology that we have right now for constructing buildings. Put a motor on a large, heavy lifting vehicle, and you can pretty much lift whatever you like and put it where you want.
There’s a new trend, though, in the world of building – 3D printing. And many people see it as the future.
3D printing is a technology that we typically associate with making dental prosthetic and DIY embellishments for the home. Applying the technology to the construction of buildings seems like a massive step – and a difficult one.
Engineers, however, see 3D printing as a powerful solution to the world’s need for new buildings. Instead of constructing a home piece by piece by hand, you’d transport a giant 3D printer to the site, assemble it, and then set it in motion. Over the course of a couple of days, it would print out the floors and walls of the house, saving enormous amounts of time, money, and materials.
3D printed homes are cheap because they allow you to strip human labor out of the home construction process. Your costs are the printer and the raw material. That’s just about it. Everything else is printable – at least in theory.
If the technology took hold, the changes in the housing market would be extraordinary. We’d see home prices collapse and financial institutions going out of business as a result.
There’s just one problem – the technology isn’t mature.
The biggest problem right now is getting printers to create homes that actually look like a traditional house. At the moment, home printers use concrete slurry that they pipe out like icing sugar on a cake. The aesthetic, therefore, is more like a termite mound than a well-presented suburbian detached. And that might not be something buyers want.
Builders, however, might want to adopt a hybrid approach. They could use services like Ranger lifting gear for some parts of the construction, and then use printers for others.
For example, you might have a builder who wants to construct a new home in the Georgian style. Clearly, just printing this out won’t work. Current technology is not yet sufficiently advanced.
We could see a situation developing, however, where builders use a printer to construct the frame of the building and then just finish the exterior embellishments by hand. Builders would cease to be engineers and become more like artisans, doing the things that the printer cannot.
With that said, the price of constructing 3D printed buildings is so low that people might put up with the looks if they can benefit from the lower rates. A lot of people would love to live in $10,000 homes. You could save up and be a property owner within a year, instead of paying a mortgage for decades and decades.
3D printing will probably hit the prime time in construction at some point in the next thirty years. In the meantime, cranes are here to stay.