Additive manufacturing (3D printing) techniques are now commonly used to create prototypes or finished products directly from CAD (Computer Aided Design) data. This method is usually associated with creating small objects of complex geometry, from implants to weapons. Advancements in the technology have resulted in an increasing interest in the use of additive manufacturing to “print” buildings.

While this has already been realised in the fabrication of bespoke building components where traditional methods would be wasteful or expensive, a number of projects are already developing systems which could be used to construct entire buildings using additive manufacturing techniques.

These projects range from printing sandstone at a large scale (using sand and a binder), to a shipping-container-sized pavilion which prints building components from bioplastic, to a system that can install both structure (concrete walls) and services (plumbing, electrical) using a moving gantry system.

Task

Your task is to research and critique existing projects and technologies using additive manufacturing in a building context, and then to design an adaptable additive manufacturing system for the construction of large buildings.

Your team should develop a conceptual design for this system, which should be capable of printing tall buildings (20+ storeys) directly from design data, with minimal human intervention on-site. You will need to demonstrate that your solution is a viable alternative to traditional building techniques by illustrating an example of the construction process from design to occupation. Can your system offer savings in cost and time without limiting building quality or design creativity?

Considerations

The use of additive manufacturing techniques in buildings has been explored in a number of proof-of-concept projects. To design your system you will first need to research and critique some of these existing projects, identifying the benefits and drawbacks of the technologies adopted in each case. You will need to consider how the use of additive manufacturing affects all stages of the construction process: the following questions should be useful for informing your own design decisions as well as analysing existing projects. You are not required to address all of these issues in detail in your design, but they are all aspects of the idea that you should consider.

  • Will use of the additive manufacturing system affect design decisions made by the architects and engineers? What limitations would be imposed on the design of buildings in terms of size, shape, complexity and materials used? What data will the architect provide to the system, and how is it interpreted?
  • How is the system transported to the building site, and does it require assembly before building can commence? How much human intervention is required once the design data is supplied? Can the system respond to faults and quality control issues?
  • Which material(s) does it use? Is this material used in traditional construction, and if so what are the advantages and disadvantages of using additive manufacturing rather than the traditional approach? If it is not normally used, how do we know it will perform as required? How is it applied accurately using additive manufacturing techniques?
  • What building forms can the system construct? Does it focus on structure or can the addition of other architectural features and services be accommodated? Which operations, if any, remain to be carried out by personnel before the building is ready for occupation?
  • How is the system removed once construction is complete, and how easy is it to reuse on future projects?
  • Are there benefits/issues with the system in terms of safety, cost and sustainability in both the short and long term?