Like a car has quantifiable specifications like 0 to 60 speed, horsepower or breaking speed, and qualitative qualities like comfort and styling as do different models of 3-D printers in construction. First let’s discuss the quantitative traits. One of the most important factors is how big of a structure can the 3-D printer create. Some companies like Winsun from China have massive 3-D printers in a warehouse that do not move. Although they are immobile and unable to print on site these printers can be over  10,000 ft.² in base area and over 30 feet in height. Other printers like the one developed by icon build have systems on rails that permit axis of unlimited length.

Another quantifiable measure is print speed. This factor is effected by the size and shape of the nozzle extruding the material you’re printing with. If the material you are printing with takes too long to dry then no matter how fast your printer is able to move you will still need to wait until the last layer is structurally secure enough to print the next layer on.A majority of these 3-D printers are meant to be mobile so that they can print on site. This makes the weight of the printer another important factor.  The heavier and larger the printer is in its disassembled form the more expensive it will be to transport driving up costs of the construction project. Very few companies have yet to develop tremendous solutions for value engineering the transportation cost of their printer.

The industry is so young that most companies are still perfecting the reliability and print quality of their machines.Energy required to operate the printer it Is also an important factor. Both from a cost and environmental standpoint it is important.Now on to the qualitative aspects. There are many different styles of 3-D printer as discussed earlier a big differentiation is whether they operated on polar or Cartesian coordinates. Polar coordinates are optimal for creating smooth lines where as Cartesian coordinates make it easier to create sharp edges although both styles of printer are capable of doing both of those things. Generally a printer operating on Cartesian coordinates will be a gantry style printer with four pillars although some operate on as few as two with a rail system or six or more without the rail system.

The next qualitative aspect is mobility. Is the printer is intended to move, or is it meant to print everything in one location and the things it prints be moved after the fact? If the printer is mobile, must be disassembled and assembled between each project? Often time’s printers on polar coordinates are easier to transport because they operate off of one peace and robotic arm as opposed to an entire gantry system. It is much easier to stabilize the nozzle with a gantry style printer because there are so many more supports. It is challenging and very expensive to create large-scale robotic arms capable of millimeter precision, especially when the robotic arm must carry a heavy load like a metal nozzle and large hose full of heavy liquid concrete mix.The form of energy that the printer runs on varies. Some printers operate on liquid gas where as other printers operate on electricity. Electricity tends to be more efficient, however in some regions electricity is not readily accessible. Wasp 3-D claims to have achieved 3D printed houses using electricity generated from solar panels.

As this technology improves it will be interesting to see the development of these printers. Currently most are made from metals like steel.There aren’t many companies competing in this very young industry. These printers require significant investment to develop and we will not likely see them being mass-produced any time soon. It would be very challenging for one company to quickly capture the entire market simply because the construction industry is such an enormous beast.  There are many enormous construction companies in the United States and many thousands more that operate as small businesses on more local scales.This technology will open up the doors for all kinds of new businesses in the construction industry.

Published by Jarett Gross

Construction Tech Correspondent Spreading Awareness of Cutting Edge Firms Building the Future of the Industry

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