Portland has a crushing need for not just housing, but for affordable housing. Because of the ability to build homes quickly using additive manufacturing, 3D printing might be the solution the city needs. Some Portland demolition contractors are keeping an eye on the 3D printing industry, which has already made headlines for its residential construction applications. If regulators can be convinced, the advantages of the building technique could forever alter the construction industry, the City of Portland, and the city’s inhabitants.
History of 3D Printing
3D printing had humble beginnings in 1984 when Charles Hull invented stereolithography, which used a UV laser and liquid polymer. One of the earliest applications for 3D printers was to create tabletop-scale models for architecture firms and demolition companies in Portland and beyond. By the 2000s, 3D printing capabilities exponentially grew to allow once-unthinkable practical applications come to fruition.
In 2006, the University of Southern California developed a giant 3D printer to print buildings in place. The printer used a crane to print with concrete to make a building’s structural elements. Other universities and 3D printing firms use robotic arms to spray building materials, such as concrete.
Several firms and educational institutions have created dwellings that range between a couple hundred square feet to more than 4,000 square feet. They continue to experiment with 3D-printed housing applications using a variety of materials, including materials salvaged from demolition sites, metals, concrete, spray insulation, nylon, epoxy resins, wax, polycarbonates, plastics, glass-filled polyamides, and even bamboo.
Some firms 3D-print the various components for a home in a factory and assemble the dwelling on-site. Others have made 3D printers that are large enough to build a tiny home yet small enough to be transportable.
Benefits of 3D-Printed Homes
- Decreased building, material and labor costs
- The ability to make sturdy, simple homes quickly
- Greater productivity gains
- Decreased costs for homebuyers
- Some 3D-printed materials are stronger than their non-printed counterparts
- Greater consistency in regard to construction quality
- Construction workers stay safer at project sites
- The ability to make complex building designs that aren’t technically and economically feasible using other technologies
Drawbacks of 3D-Printed Homes
Portland demolition experts agree that among the greatest drawbacks of building 3D-printed homes are the technique’s age and the regulatory landscape.
3D printing is a relatively new technology and industry leaders are still figuring out standards and best practices. The building technique is still seen as a novelty by some—a novelty with no track record. In the construction world, standards for traditional building materials have been developed over the decades to ensure homes are dependable and safe. Standards for 3D-printed materials—such as mixtures of plastic-polymers, sand and cement—do not exist. To be viable, 3D-printed building techniques will have to be closely inspected and monitored constantly during production.
Testing 3D printing technologies and the building materials the technologies use is an expensive process. In addition to complying with current regulations, they must also have UV protection and be fire retardant. Many of the building codes contractors follow in Portland and throughout Oregon are standards established by the International Residential Code and International Building Code, which the International Code Council (ICC) established.
To prepare for the inevitable boom of 3D-printed construction, the ICC is collaborating with the American National Standards Institute, National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, and America works to create a standardized roadmap for 3D printing in several industries, including construction. Once finalized, the ICC will use the standards to create a regulatory framework regarding additive manufacturing, such as 3D-printed construction.
Another consideration is the speed of change in the construction industry. It’s slow. In the U.S., framed wood houses have been the standard for decades. It will take time for construction contractors to appreciate the benefits of 3D printing.
3D Printing to Solve Portland’s Housing Crisis
Is 3D printing the solution to Portland’s housing crisis? It could be, but not right now.
3D printing is a great solution when an area needs homes built rapidly. However, most 3D printing technologies are only capable of constructing small houses made of concrete that aren’t always aesthetically pleasing. Some manufacturers are beginning to make larger multi-level, single-family homes. Most 3D printing machines, however, are limited by size. As a result, there are limits on what they can build.
The problem in Portland is real estate—land—is limited. When Portland demolition contractors remove a home or building from a lot for the sake of residential development, it’s generally to build multi-story multi-family housing. 3D printing is more likely to take off once the technology to easily construct multi-family units that meet building codes and standards is available. As the 3D printing trend moves forward, construction workers will have to learn to co-work with automated technologies to remain competitive.
In the next decade or two, a building that once took months to construct could take as little as a few days. The more likely scenario in the near future is contractors taking advantage of 3D printing to create specific building components rather than entire buildings. As trends develop, the Portland demolition specialists at Elder will continue to keep an eye on the latest advances to develop safe, effective ways to help prepare sites for 3D-printed homes and then remove them when it’s time to make room for a new project.