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3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of creating solid, three-dimensional objects by laying down successive layers of material. The process has been successfully applied in a number of industries, including automotive and aerospace, and is slowly making headway in the construction industry.

In 3D concrete printing, the technique helps in coming up with predesigned building components that reduce on time, cost and errors, and allow flexibility in design. Past experiments in 3D concrete printing have shown that there is considerable interest from construction companies across the world, with many focused on using different concrete mixes and printing machines to view results.

Continued interest by construction companies in 3D concrete printing provides hope that the global market for the technique will gain momentum. A market report released by Transparency Market Research looked at key market-related elements of 3D concrete printing, including growth drivers, the expected challenges and the trends being witnessed.

Naturally, such a report would garner interest from many construction industry stakeholders and professionals including lead architect for Hill International John Hiscocks, who is keen on learning more about building construction techniques.

Market Outlook

According to the report, interest in 3D concrete printing has caught the eye of researchers, companies and technologists, many of whom have come together to experiment with various mixes. There are several types available – including ready-mix concrete, precast, high-density and limecrete – that the market is working with, with research ongoing for the most effective mixes. Additionally, construction companies are using 3D concrete printing to manufacture elements such as floors, pavement slabs, roofs and walls.

From a geographical standpoint, Asia Pacific is the fastest-growing market for 3D concrete printing. There are a couple of reasons for this, including a growing population and a rise in disposable incomes that have spurred an increase in construction projects. China is among the leaders in this growth, owing to increased awareness of the benefits of 3D printing, government backing and the push by innovators.

Other than the Asia Pacific region, the Middle East is also a key market for 3D concrete printing. The emergence of government-backed initiatives such as the “Dubai 3D Printing Strategy” and an increased need for affordable housing is pushing the acceptance of the technique. Some of the key companies pushing 3D concrete printing include Winsum (China), Apis Cor (Russia), Monolite UK (UK) and Cybe Construction (the Netherlands), among others. These firms have the knowledge and expertise to create more awareness and as the technique continues to gather steam, partnerships and joint ventures are expected to keep innovation going.

A Large Scale Project

In the Netherlands, the city of Eindhoven is slated to have the first commercial project built using 3D printing technology. The project, which consists of five houses, begins construction in 2018, with the key partners on this including the Eindhoven University of Technology and Houben & Van Mierlo Architecten.

The first house in the project will be a three-room, one-floor house measuring slightly over 90 square metres, with the rest expected to have multiple floors. The plan is to build in phases so that the firms behind the project will use the experience of each phase to research and innovate for the following units. The university will print the elements for the first unit, with subsequent printing being gradually moved to the construction site.

The Eindhoven project, which is expected to be complete by mid-2019, is among a number of 3D printed projects witnessed in the Netherlands, including a 3D-printed concrete bridge for cyclists and a metal bridge in Amsterdam.