Coming soon – 3D printed components for the masses

3D printing2579_FP711650CMYKFoster + Partners

3D printing has the potential to produce complex structural components quickly and cheaply if the technology were commercially available. Now Fosters has done just that.

Automated construction has lots of promise: better quality, faster delivery and lower cost. But realising this potential is very slow. While many modern factories are full of robots, with barely a human to be seen, most offsite construction facilities are essentially site-based processes in a shed.

3D printing, which creates a three-dimensional object from a CAD model, is one automated process that has much to offer construction. Its flexibility fits well with the bespoke nature of construction and the industry has dabbled with the technology for producing one-off components – and even whole buildings – but the technology is still some way from wholesale adoption.

More about proof of concept than production

Change is coming, however. 3D printers for producing models have gone from an expensive rarity to an off-the-shelf product, with many architectural practices taking advantage of the speed, accuracy and low cost offered by 3D-printed models. Producing structural components is much more challenging due to their larger scale and the high temperatures needed to melt steel, so progress so far has been more about proof of concept than production.

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