Let’s imagine for a second that the date is February 2, 2073 in a suburb in the United States. A couple stands by an empty lot talking to an architect. They are excited because their dream home will soon be built. Whereas, in the past it took five months to a year to build a home, the architect can build this couples home in less than twenty hours and have it move in ready in forty eight. Does the architect have a small army of highly trained men or cyborgs with futuristic tools ready to build nonstop? Nope. The main worker in this story is an extremely large robotic 3D printer that will build this couples home in layers, install plumbing and the electrical in less than twenty hours.
In February 2012, Ehrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of industrial and systems engineering at the University of Southern California held a presentation on the future of what construction will look like and the impacts it will have in many aspects of the industry. He discussed a process called “contour crafting”, which utilizes 3D printing technology to build a 2500 square-foot home in less than 20 hours. “With support and funding from the US military as well as NASA, Khoshnevis believes that his project can help give adequate shelter to some billion or so people around the world in need of improved housing. “He has high hopes to see it become a reality one day.” Will this happen? Yes it will.
As the technology continues to evolve, its impact on the construction industry will be immense. For one thing 3D printing will make building a home or commercial building cheaper and faster. The reduction in manpower, materials and construction costs will make it environmentally friendly, making it part of the green movement. Today’s industry relies on manpower, using cutting and drilling tools in construction. The 3D Printer will eliminate a large percentage of those tools and manpower. The crews of the future could be composed of a handful of technicians overseeing the project over computer terminals as the printer is building. Industry experts are of the opinion that as the technology continues to evolve it will be more of a disruption that will intimately force a change the way things have been done for decades. The end result is that many jobs will be lost never to return but will create a new wave of technical jobs.
Something can also be said about the effects of 3D printing in the manufacturing world of power tool accessories; specifically cutting tools as diamond blades, cup wheels, core bits and carbide blades. Currently all these tools are machined with some applications controlled via computers. This process requires a certain amount of manpower to do. It is not inconceivable to think that at some point all these tools will printed, thus eliminating most of the manual labor force in most manufacturing facilities; especially those that are located overseas. In my research about 3D printing there are numerous articles that explain the concerns that China has over the potential of what 3D printing would do to its manual labor force.
This scenario paints a picture of a technology that is constantly evolving and will one day change the face construction and manufacturing permanently. Currently this technology is used in architecture, engineering, construction, aerospace, automotive, education, information systems, dental and medical industries, clothes, footwear and many other industries. First conceived and created in the 80’s this technology has grown to the point where it has started to make an impact. What does this means for conventional construction companies and manufacturers? They should look at history and not repeat the same mistakes other have made, that ultimately led to their demise. Nothing is forever and successful companies find ways to evolve and roll with the punches. A new revolution is upon us. Will you be a part of it? Only time and history will tell.