The construction of New York's Empire State Building is often seen as the figurative and literal pinnacle of construction efficiency, rising 1,250 feet and 102 stories from the ground to its rooftop spire in just over 13 months' time, at a human cost of just five lives. Indeed, most of today's construction projects would be lucky to come close to that level of speed, regardless of the building's size. While the construction industry traditionally has been slow to change the way it operates, several new technologies are poised to usher in a new era of faster and more automated construction practices. Three-dimensional (3D) printing is among the key technologies that are expected to change the way structures are built in the future, as construction engineers and contractors seek methods for completing buildings more quickly, more efficiently, and, in many cases, with a greater attention paid to sustainability. Large printers that can print construction materials such as foam or concrete into specific shapes can drastically speed up the creation of walls, decorative or ornamental pieces, and even certain structural elements.
Squeezing a house through a nozzle, like a pâtissier pumping fondant cream from a piping bag, may not be everyone's idea of cutting-edge construction. The glitzy emirate aspires to have a quarter of all new buildings constructed via 3D printing by 2030. Emaar, one of the Arabian Gulf's leading property developers, is heralding its nascent Arabian Ranches III residential project as offering Dubai's first such dwelling. Fabricating a three-dimensional model, or prototype, from a computer-aided design by adding successive layers of material is now standard practice in many industries, ranging from aerospace and architecture to medicine and high-end manufacturing. McKinsey, the consultancy, estimates the technique could have an annual economic impact worth $550 billion by 2025.
The already rapid growth of the global robotics market is accelerating. It more than doubled from 2005 to 2015 and is projected to more than triple from 2015 to 2025. This growth is broad-based, touching almost the entire economy, and two simple truths are behind it: robots are becoming cheaper (the cost of industrial robot systems dropped by nearly 30% in the decade leading up to 2015), while their applications and capabilities are widening and improving. In construction, the big leap is that robots are getting better at operating in uncontrolled environments. Previously, they could work only in highly structured environments such as automobile production lines, doing repetitive, relatively simple tasks.
A small group of employees in Dubai is starting to move into a new workspace that the emirate says is the world's first functional office building made using three-dimensional printer technology. Looking like a mashup of a "Jetsons" abode and an Apple Store, the compact office was printed out layer by layer over 17 days at a cost of 140,000, said Saif al-Aleeli, the CEO of a government initiative called the Dubai Future Foundation that is behind the project. Products made using 3-D printing are first designed on a computer and then printed out using a variety of materials, including metal, plastic and concrete. But the foundation says its Dubai office is the first "fully functional 3-D printed building," constructed with full services and meant for daily use.
This incredible 3D-printed home was built by a robot in just 48 hours. Constructed using a special quick-drying mortar, the building is the first of its kind because it can be deconstructed and reassembled at a different location. The one-story home, which has been described as a'milestone' for 3D printing construction, covers 100 square meters (1,075 square feet) and features curved walls, a living area, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. The Italian architects behind the project said it is just a proof-of-concept for now, and did not disclose how much it cost to build. They added that the house could one day be printed on the moon to house lunar colonies.