Today, 3-D printers are creating more than just plastic doorstops and chess pieces. Larger-than-ever structures are being “printed” layer by layer using materials like steel and concrete. A robotic 3-D printer in the Netherlands created a 12-meter (40’) pedestrian bridge (above). And a San Francisco start-up company printed the concrete walls of a small house in 24 hours (below).
Should carpenters be worried? Not yet. It’s unlikely that 3D printers will replace traditional methods of construction any time soon. As one leading engineer on the topic, John Hainsworth said in an article for the Guardian, “If it doesn’t need to be a thing of beauty and it just needs to be rapidly produced, then it’s only a matter of time before it [3D printing] is seen to be viable.” In other words, 3D printers are good at building very basic structures that do not have the ascetic value nor the utility most homeowners are looking for.
Safety and durability are additional concerns. “If you are talking about printing a public house or building, you have to demonstrate that it will hold,” said Clément Moreau, the chief executive of the French cloud-based 3D printing firm Sculpteo, which launched a new titanium printing service earlier this year.
Another reason that 3D printing is still a ways off from being a viable construction method is that 3D printing is hard to regulate. And most contractors know a thing or two about slow moving housing regulations.
So breathe easy, construction pros; 3D printers aren’t coming to steal your jobs, at least not for a while.