When it comes to producing anything of quality, faster is not always better. And as far as cheaper, well…they say, ‘you get what you pay for.’
But 3D printing is putting those two notions to bed. The new technology works by layering materials in a programmed pattern to create a solid, three-dimensional object. It has fast been making a mark in industries such as dentistry, prosthetics, aerospace, automotive, and manufacturing. And now it’s poised to bring a new dimension to the construction industry.
Getting the Printing Party Started
Builders have already employed the next-gen printing to construct offices, small houses, and yes, a castle. And the first total 3D-printed neighborhood is slated for an area in Latin America.
As mentioned earlier, the 3D printing process involves expelling materials, layer by layer through a nozzle in a preset pattern. Some process details may vary for construction, along with the medium used – from ordinary sand-cement and lime to specially designed mortar. And as in a proof-of-concept bathroom built by Singapore scientists, the printer used eco-friendly mortar elements, such geopolymers derived from fly ash waste. 2
This new building technique answers a long-ringing call in the construction industry to improve building processes that can boost productivity, reduce building costs, and in turn prove beneficial for buyers by erecting environmentally friendly, affordable, and functional structures.
The Proof Is in the Printing
The bathroom unit in Singapore was built in less than a day. Its particular construction method required half the production time of standard prefab facilities and garnered a 30 percent savings in material and weight.2
In another project, the construction tech company Icon produced the walls of a 350 square-foot proof-of-concept home in 48 hours to the tune of $10,000. The company claims its next-generation 3D printer can now recreate the same project in 24 hours. The ‘Vulcan II’ reportedly produces zero waste, is portable, and functions in low resource (power, water, labor) conditions.1
As a new construction technique, the 3D printing method holds the potential to revolutionize the industry and efficiently craft affordable, quality housing in a variety of locations - locations where, previously, quality and affordability were not compatible in the same project.
Cut the Cost
Of course, the cost of a 3D printer is a bit higher than that of your office laser jet. Starting in the basement at around $10,000, 3D printers can easily exceed six-figures.3 Quite an investment.
Fortunately, firms that would like to add another dimension to their construction techniques can find monetary help through the research and development (R&D) tax credit.
This federal incentive contributes a dollar-to-dollar reduction in a company’s federal income tax liability when the business undertakes activities to develop new or improved products, processes, techniques, formulas, or software. And 3D printing for construction bears bright potential to qualify in those terms.
With the savings in tax dollars, a firm can offset the cost of the printer or inject that money into critical areas of the business.
Any construction company looking to ensure it captures all their R&D credits should partner with a tax professional well-versed in the in and outs of the incentive.
1. Construction to kick off on world’s first 3D-printed neighborhood, New Atlas, 2019
2. 3D-printed bathroom units take shape in a single day, New Atlas, 2019
3. The 13 Best Construction 3D Printers in 2019, ANIWAA, 2019