Published on: Mar 29, 2017

The speed at which 3D technology is progressing, it is just a question of time before this becomes a reality.  Recently, researchers in Spain created the first ever 3D printed foot bridge which is a milestone in itself although engineers in China have already constructed a four-storey building with 3D printed units or building blocks a few years ago. For those not familiar with digital printing technology it is not really easy to understand how a bridge or a building could be 3D ‘printed’. So, here’s how it works – 3D printing is a process that uses the additive method of making three dimensional solid objects from filament that is driven through an extruder just like you squeeze icing on the cake. The entire process is pre-programmed and controlled digitally from a computer.

3D printing technology could be the future of construction

So, what is an additive process? It is a process wherein layer upon layer of material is extruded or forced down through a die until the object is created. These layers are very thin slices of the horizontal cross-section of the object being made and they are placed one upon the other with very high precision. This is the technology that the researchers at the IAAC (Institute of Advanced Architecture in Catalonia) used to 3D print the entire 12 meter long foot bridge with micro-refined concrete that was driven through the extruder of the printer. Many observers feel this has taken construction technology to a different level altogether and may turn out to be the future of construction.

The 12 meter long and 1.75 meter wide bridge that was designed and 3D printed by the researchers in the IAAC, has been installed at a park in Madrid. Areti Markopoulou who led the team of researchers at IAAC, said “In traditional architecture there is a lot of waste material which you cannot remove, however, with 3D printing you can control where the material is deposited. Usually we are limited to simple geometries in construction because it is difficult and expensive to create complex moulds. With this bridge we were able to experiment with complex forms that appear in nature and we made a design that would have been very difficult by conventional means.”

Other 3D printing projects from around the world

There have been reports about a Chinese company, WinSun, which claimed to have 3D printed as many as 10 houses in just 24 hours way back in March 2014. The company used a mixture of construction rubble and industrial waste, including glass and tailings around a base of quick-drying cement mixed with a hardening agent. As in any other instance of 3D printing WinSun used CAD (Computer Aided Design) design as the template and controlled the extruder arm with the computer to place the material. The walls are hollow within, where they have a zig-zag pattern which helps reinforce the wall and also provides for insulation. 3D printed buildings and structures are also said to be coming up in different parts of the world like Dubai and the Netherlands among others.