Concrete is not the only material that people have been considering 3-D printing construction with. A company that goes by the name MX3D has developed a printer that is capable in printing large metal structures from a single robotic arm operating on polar coordinates. This company is based in Europe and has already demonstrated the viability and practicality of their printer by building a bridge over running water using their 3-D printer. The bridge is made completely out of metal and is strong enough to be driven over by cars. Printing in metal is a very exciting possibility for the future of automated construction.A big part of what makes metal so great for construction applications is that unlike concrete the metal hardens almost instantly therefore be printed in a horizontal line with no supports whatsoever. This unique feature and capability opens up a whole new realm of possibilities not just for the construction industry but 3-D printing as a whole.Although many homes are now built in concrete, especially in hot southern regions like Florida or Texas, there are some people who do not like the aesthetic of concrete. These people would prefer not to live in a concrete home even if the price is significantly cheaper. That is what makes the Swedish 3-D printing +project called so unique (1) this company is working on printing in cellulose.
Cellulose is considered a bio plastic it has strong insulating features and so unlike metal or concrete it is not cold to the touch in cold weather or hot to the touch in hot weather. Cellulose is actually what wood is made out of. Walls printed in cellulose would be far more comfortable feeling then one printed in cold concrete. The trick to printing in cellulose is mixing it with acetone. When the cellulose mixes with acetone it becomes liquefied and can then be printed. After the mixture of acetone and cellulose has come out of the printer the acetone quickly dissolves and evaporates into the air leaving you with just the solid cellulose. This technology has very exciting potential although judging by the progress that has been made thus far it is significantly more challenging to print with and more expensive than it’s concrete counterparts. There is also the slight risk that acetone could get on your home and melt it causing significant and potentially life-threatening damage however that is unlikely as acetone rarely if ever occurs in nature.
A big company called SOM has 3-D printed small office pods using plastic polymers. These polymers are weatherproof and the design of the office pods is quite aesthetic and modern. They are one of the few larger construction companies that have publicly demonstrated investments in 3-D construction technologies. It is very likely that in upcoming years large companies will pour more money into these types of products.It would be wise of construction equipment manufacturers like Caterpillar and John Deere to invest in these technologies to some degree as a 3-D printer capable of building a house could eliminate the need for many John deer or Catapillar products. It is likely that they could reach a Kodak like fate holding on to a dying technology until their last breath, as new comers in the industry takeover from incumbent giants the way digital photo technology and social media look over the photo and video capture industry. Kodak specialized in film and when the time came to adapt they failed. New technologies are an early warning to large equipment manufacturing companies to take automated construction technologies into the utmost consideration and monitor closely the progress of their peers.