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3D Printing in the Construction Industry

3D printing has experienced rapid development in the last ten years. The equipment and printable materials are still very expensive. However, the possibilities afforded by the process, including in the area of façade technology, are driving research forward – particularly the prospect of cost-effective customisation. In Amsterdam, a team of researchers is currently working on fabricating an entire canal house by means of 3D printing.

Is 3D printing revolutionising the construction industry? This question divides opinion. Last year, the ten Chinese houses made by manufacturer Winsun Decoration Design Engineering caused a sensation in the news. It was not the end result that was astounding – simple houses with a bulky appearance. What was groundbreaking was the use of the enormous 150 x 10 x 6.6 metre printer. From an architectural point of view, DUS architects seem to be working on a more pioneering project, which involves 3D printing a canal house in north Amsterdam. The Dutch team is fabricating parts of the canal house directly on site and gradually assembling them to form a three-storey building with an ornate façade. The benefits of the 3D printing process are clear; a real product can be generated directly from a digital file. There are no transport costs or waste and there is recyclable material left over at the end. Those in favour of 3D printing see opportunities above all in the high degree of customisation that the process offers. 3D products can be fabricated to the exact requirements of the customer – a curved wall costs the same as a straight one. Research teams see excellent possibilities in the area of façade technology in particular, and Professor Ulrich Knaack from TU Darmstadt (Technical University of Darmstadt) is currently supervising three doctorates on the topic of 3D printing. In his estimation, this process will not replace the familiar mass production in the window and façade construction industry in the foreseeable future, rather it will supplement it with the production of individual parts. Entire buildings will remain visions of the future, as the
printers are still too slow. But belief in the process is fuelling the team at DUS.

3D fabrication of a window for the canal house by DUS Architects