Could 3D Concrete Printing Revolutionise the Construction Industry?

For a US$7 trillion industry, construction has provided an incredibly lackluster return in productivity growth and innovation. According to Jay Sanjayan, professor at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, construction remains stuck at the same productivity levels as 80 years ago.

The manual nature of the work has so far proved a barrier to adoption of digital and automation technologies. Professor Sanjayan sees 3D printed concrete as a possible solution to these problems, providing more labour-productivity whilst boosting creativity.

3D concrete printing has the potential to allow free-form construction without the use of moulds for concrete casting. According to Professor Sanjayan, the latter process accounts for about 60 per cent of the total cost of concrete construction, with moulds frequently discarded. This contributes to the 80 per cent of worldwide waste that the construction industry generates.

Professor Sanjayan proposes the building of houses, bridges, buildings and even wind turbine towers via 3D concrete printing. As the industry is still in its infancy, he highlights that conventional concrete in its current form is not suitable for 3D printing, requiring new and innovative alternatives.

It remains to be seen how construction companies can adapt their processes to include 3D printing. An understanding will need to be developed of the different types of rigs needed to deploy the 3D printing capability and how this will fit in with existing building processes. With adequate support and investment, construction may be about to get its biggest changes for 80 years.