3D Printing – Changing the World of Engineering and Building Construction
Every now and then, technology finds a way to completely transform an industry, sometimes multiple industries at once. When computers became small enough to fit on a standard desk and cheap enough to afford, the shockwave was felt across almost all sectors. Today, the 3D printer is set to do the same thing. Here at the Benchmark Group, we’ve been eagerly watching the progression of this new device. It went from something large, slow, and expensive to, within just a few years, something that may change many industries. A number of those industries are ones in which we operate.
3D printing has greatly decreased the amount of time it takes architects to create models. Instead of painstakingly creating pieces of the model from paper, plastic, and other materials over several months, the model is instead printed over the course of a few days. These printed models are actually much more accurate because they are created perfectly to scale—there’s no human error here. Some architects have expressed concern over printing delicate structures, and those concerns may be valid in regards to some older or cheaper 3D printers. However, the top of the line models have none of these issues. Older printers may even be used by slightly modifying some of the more delicate components.
The construction industry is very interested in how this technology could be implemented on the job site. While we are not quite to the point where buildings will be printed instead of built, the idea isn’t that far-fetched. A team in the Netherlands has created a pair of 3D printing robots that are printing a small bridge over a canal. If the process goes smoothly and the finished bridge passes rigorous testing, the process could be applied to larger bridges.
Other construction firms in Europe and the U.S. have already been working on the idea of printing a house. Some plans will use concrete as the printer’s “ink” while others have designed homes that will be printed off-site in plastic before being snapped together. Nothing has been printed on such a scale yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
Designing the interior of a space may also involve creating small models of the room or creating computer images that show how the different shades will work together. However, the color displayed on a computer screen may not be the exact same shade of color that’s used in the final product. Using a 3D printer, designers can print an exact mock-up of a space, making it possible to see how the colors, textures, and placement of objects will work together. This makes it much easier to grasp the conceptual design of the space.
A Need for New Skills
According to a survey done by Wanted Analytics and reported by Forbes in September of 2014, 35 percent of the open engineering positions included in the survey listed 3D printing skills as a requirement or as a preferred skill. The positions that placed the most emphasis on 3D printing skills included industrial engineers, mechanical engineers, commercial designers, and marketing professionals.
As 3D printing becomes more common, more and more professionals will need to learn how to use this technology. Here at the Benchmark Group, we’ve closely followed this technology as it has developed, and we’ve already seen how it’s changing the world. Will these changes continue to the point that we are printing buildings? The rapid improvements we’ve seen with this technology may answer that question sooner rather than later.