Printing on the skyline

What are the future benefits of 3D printing in high-rise construction?

Technologies have upgraded construction industry to a better level. Nowadays 3D Printing is one such technology which is helping construction industry to make work easier and cost effective. No only this but it also gives freedom to the architects to design and share the buildings as per the requirement. 3D Printing is in early stage in India but slowly the country is getting familiar with this (3D Printing) technology. Since the buildings are rising high, here we discuss how the 3D Printing will be beneficial to it.

3D Printing: Better than modular design concept
With the beginning of the core and super column design skyscrapers have been able to rise to even bigger heights. In order to demonstrate the fundamentals of design, a physical model had been built. To make the model more uniform, 3D Printing was used to make the structural elements, namely outrigger trusses, belt trusses, and diagonal braces. In order to attach the 3D Printed pieces to the model, multiple adhesives were tested for strength after which epoxy was used in the assembly. Lateral loads were then applied to the model to measure which of the structural elements added the most stiffness. Of the three, the diagonal braces contributed much more to the stiffness than did the outrigger or belt trusses.

Now this is past, then what is present? Briefing on the benefits of 3D Printing in high-rise buildings Ar. SP Anchuri, Anchuri & Anchuri says, “The real scale true building, building with very minimal limitations in terms of form and creation. Starting with precast to PEB the world started seeing building elements which are printed and then used in construction for assembly. Then it came to smaller full scale integrated full buildings with smaller to moderate sizes. And now we can go for tall to super tall buildings. The revolution in design and execution is terms of construction techniques and building material science helps us to any impossible think.”

Even though many limitations are still persisting, Anchuri thinks, major advantages of 3D Printing would be as follows:
• Increased adaptability integrated design approach
• Better than modular design concept
• More freedom to architects and other consultants
• Better construction management
• Increased sustainability
• Quicker and precise building like a production of unit
• 3D Printer does most of the work with minimal human effort leading to reduced labour cost
• Condensed waste generation
• Reduced health and safety risks as 3D Printing replaces dangerous jobs on site
• Environmentally sociable.

Anchuri adds, “Though the very thought of an actual 3D Printed skyscraper boggles the mind – we’re still trying to come to terms with 3D Printed tiny houses. Development is still required for systems of 3D Printing buildings at large scale and at high speed with the use of giant robotic 3D Printers which can print the skyscraper with the help of cranes that have added units specifically designed for 3D Printing at heights of more than 80 metres.” All of the major structural components of the building, including the steel rebar reinforcement; will have to be 3D Printed. This requires research for how one could adapt the technologies for taller structures.

“I am sure modern technologies, which will be able to build architecturally complex buildings at never-before seen speeds. But in our country it is all about economies of scale where the initial high technology costs will reduce as one enters the mass-production phase,” observes Anchuri.

3D Printing in early stage
Starting as a niche technology, 3D Printing has been around surprisingly long, since 1980s. However, how this technology could transform the construction industry has been discussed for long but not much has happened in terms of tangible contribution, believes Rajan Aiyer, Managing Director, Trimble India & SAARC . “But now the world is starting to witness 3D Printing applied in construction,” he observes.

Early adopters experimented with building low-rise buildings but now a few contractors and start-ups are constructing high-rises. “China, a pioneer in experimenting with 3D Printing homes and other large-scale structures since 2015, has demonstrated the benefits in the construction industry, though skeptics are still abound,” informs Aiyer.

3D Printers allow an architect to be totally flexible in the shape of designs. Using a concrete and composite mixture, 3D Printers create curvilinear structures, which are the strongest ones, especially compared to rectangular forms. Costs could be lowered for both the large-scale structures and components. 3D Printed buildings could have far lower materials and labour costs, which would especially benefit developing countries: better homes built for less. The technology allows printing components anywhere, which can lower both the cost of the part and the time required to deliver it.

Construction would be more precise with 3D Printing, since a file passes from a computer to a machine, untouched by human hands, so it is never subject to interpretation and resultant errors. The file translates directly into an object.

With regards to the future of 3D Printing Aiyer says, “As 3D Printing in the construction is in its early stages, it is still too premature to tell what will happen in the next few years but nonetheless, it’s exciting to watch the change unfold and imagine the future possibilities.”

3D Printing: Creating future organic buildings
Construction industry has grown multi-fold in last few years, thanks to the technological advancements in the field of construction engineering and techniques; 3D Printing, though at its naïve stage with reference to the Indian construction industry, has a lot in store for the future to experience, thinks Ar. Prem Nath, Prem Nath Associates.

Today, one has already seen, how a low-rise structure can be built via 3D Printing techniques in a very short time-span – thereby giving quicker turn-around and better opportunities of development; similarly, Prem Nath sees a future, wherein similar techniques, but with further advancements, shall enable 3D Printing of high-rise structures.

However, Ar Nath says, “I feel 3D Printing may not end-up replacing the current techniques (which may be replaced by some other newer technique though) of high rise construction; the future potential that a 3D Printing technique holds is not about, ‘how high one can go’ – it is, ‘how creative or how organic one can build’ with this system of construction.”

On being optimistic about 3D Printing’s future in high -rise building Ar Nath sees a great future in being able to design structures which, with all the available construction systems are currently not possible; future of 3D Printing being used with different types of construction materials, enabling structures, which are different, not just because they were “3D Printed”, but because they have been 3D printed with a more sustainable material, provide for a better occupational environment and are not just time effective, but cost effective, too.

Thus, he believes, 3D Printing, once explored to its full potential, has great benefits in all facets of the construction industry.

3D Printing to localise manufacturing of all materials
With the arrival of 3D Printing the future is seen as localised manufacturing of all materials. This would mean a paradigm shift in an industry such as ours where we are used to centralised manufacturing of all building products and relying on transportation and logistics to bring materials to site. Construction of high-rises has only now started to slowly evolve into the prefab space, till now this has remained an in-situ process wherein all elements of the building are built on site. With 3D Printing it would mean that this process shifts back to being in-situ, not only for elements of the foundation, frame etc, which are cast on site but also other materials such as walls and windows.

The requirement for “finishing” materials such as plaster, paint and perhaps even tiles could be reconsidered thereby bringing down the cost of materials dramatically. This could be a great improvement in the environmental factor as this would mean lesser materials with lighter embodied energies as they will be locally produced with no transportation that adds to their carbon footprint, informs Ar. Pavitra Sriprakash, Chief Designer & Director, The Global Design Studio, Shilpa Architects Planners Designers Pvt Ltd.

A few of the pilot projects around the world are working on cellular systems that are inspired bio mimics to form hexagonal cellular grids as the wall systems. This could further act as a very structurally stable system, which could soon even replace columns and beams.

She adds, “Architecturally forms will have to adapt to more fluid and organic forms that are amenable to such honeycomb based structures. So the idea of high-rises being stacked boxes in the sky could evolve to be more pod-like in such cases. The future of this technology for now is limited due to the prohibitive costs of setting up a 3D Printer capable of working with materials for the building industry. Though some research has been done for 3D Printing of concrete, we have many things to learn before we can see the true possibility of this technology for construction of high-rises. It can be said though, that once main stream it has the potential to be the biggest breakthrough in terms of cost, energy, time and sustainability.”

3D Printing is developing a certainty in construction
The actual use of 3D Printing and its alteration into the construction industry is now starting to develop a certainty, believes Aniket Haware, Managing Director, Haware developer. He says, “Contractors and architects around the world are starting to build the first 3D residential constructions including houses and apartment buildings. Using 3D Printing instead of present construction methods may be a more cost effective process and create a different standard for housing construction in the future. This is faster and accurate for construction. It reduces the labour cost and work with minimal human efforts. Globally friendly – recycled products can be used to produce the construction materials used in 3D Printers.”

3D Printing allows flexible design and shapes for buildings
The currents trends across the globe have made architects and builders to builds the first 3D structures for houses, apartment, commercial building and even high-rise buildings. 3D Printing is trending around for some time now. The use of such printing by architecture into construction industry is becoming a reality now.

Informing about the benefits Rohit Poddar, Managing Director, Poddar Housing and development Ltd says, “3D Printing in construction will enable architects to discover new design and shapes plus this will also allows them to be flexible in terms of design and shapes for many building. 3D printing will reduce the cost of materials and other parts since the mixture of concrete and composite material will help in developing curvilinear effect and which will help in creating strongest structural design as compare to regular blocks. These will not only reduce the cost price but also the durations of the construction times. Similarly, it will helps in creating low cost house as the costing will be reduce to the maximum level. Foreign contractors and various architects around the world are now working towards making first 3D residential construction which is helping them in getting more cost effective process plus its creating different standard of housing sector for future generation. The old trends is also going to vanish which all constructions spares part to be printed by any manufacturing company from the sites.”

Agreeing upon Poddar’s views Amit Wadhwani, Director, Sai Estate Consultants says, “With the advancement of technology, 3D Printing has been hovering around for some time now. The actual use of such printings by architecture and its adaption into the construction industry is now starting to become a reality. Architects and builders across the globe are commencing to build the first 3D residential structures including houses, apartment buildings and in high-rise buildings. The benefits of 3D Printing in high-rise construction will enable people to discover new shapes and design possibilities.”

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