Processes continue to evolve around 3D printing for the built environment, with new startup companies emerging around the world. As the volatile lumber market continues to put pressure on the construction industry, innovative companies are branching out for options.

Until fairly recently, the 3D printing medium has typically been a concrete mix. However, we are seeing more composite materials like wood/polymer, in addition to plastics, resins, thermoset material that hardens when exposed to UV light, and even biological components such as hemp fibers.

3D printing technology is not new, but the new materials being introduced to create 3D printed buildings vary greatly. Some companies are creating their own materials and obtaining certifications that set them apart from the competition. Builders who want to get it right the first time are working with regulatory agencies to learn about pain points and get input and feedback on new processes from regulatory and code officials.

This type of industry disruption involves productive collaboration – in other words, approaching collaboration with humility.

One California company, Mighty Buildings, creates modular panels for “plug-n-play” construction. While their patented thermoset wall material can enhance other materials, it is designed to essentially replace all the traditional layers of a wall – exterior and interior finishes, as well as fire, air, water, thermal (insulation), and vapor barriers. These 3D printed walls, produced in a facility offsite, are transported to the jobsite and erected by tilt-up, interfacing well with traditional materials.

The Mighty Buildings leadership has found that the ideal sectors for their prefabricated walls include hospitality, hospitals and shipbuilding. An example would be the prefab bathroom units that are standard features in those specialty construction fields. Using prefab in these applications helps minimize waste during construction.

Looking to the future, Mighty Buildings leadership is setting its sights on prefab mechanical, electrical and plumbing units. Kitchen and bathroom wetwalls can be installed back-to-back in projects. In addition, using a building information modeling (BIM) process, panels can be designed with the chaseways built in. It is possible that, in the future, circuitry could even be 3D printed directly into the wall. Although that is possible currently, it is not practical at scale. It will take some additional productive collaboration with regulatory agencies to make that a reality.

Tune in to season 4, episode 10 of The AEC Disruptors Podcast, to hear from Sam Ruben of Mighty Buildings about the construction innovation taking place in 3D printing.

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