Additive Manufacturing Revolutionising Construction & Renovation: A Sustainable Paradigm Shift

By Luiz Filipe Evelin Arruda, Sam Schoenlank, and Antonia Egli (Dublin City University)

Additive manufacturing (AM) has revolutionised the construction industry by allowing the fabrication of three-dimensional objects through layer-based material connections. With methods like selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modelling (FDM), AM can utilise various materials such as metals, composites, ceramics, and polymers, facilitating the creation of complex structural components with minimal waste. Particularly in concrete 3D printing, the market is booming, expected to reach $40 billion by 2027. Yet, challenges persist, including high equipment costs, labour shortages, and environmental concerns regarding material usage and energy consumption.

Additive manufacturing, often referred to as 3D printing, has emerged as a ground-breaking technology in recent years, transforming various industries, including construction and building renovation. Initially conceptualised by Chuck Hull in 1984, AM involves fabricating three-dimensional objects layer by layer based on computer-aided designs (CAD) and using a diverse array of materials (Guo & Leu, 2013). While AM encompasses several techniques, such as selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modelling (FDM), its application in construction holds immense promise for revolutionising traditional building methods.

Advancements in Construction & Renovation Additive Manufacturing

The construction industry has witnessed significant strides in AM technology, particularly in concrete 3D printing, which has garnered attention due to its potential for creating sustainable structures with reduced environmental impact (Paolini et al., 2019). Initially reliant on conventional materials like ordinary Portland cement (OPC), concerns over OPC’s environmental footprint have spurred exploration into alternative binders such as alkali-activated materials (AAMs) (Chougan et al., 2021). AAMs, utilising substances like metakaolin and potassium silicate, offer low-carbon alternatives for 3D-printed structures, facilitating sustainable construction practices (Alghamdi et al., 2019).

Moreover, AM’s versatility extends beyond cementitious materials to include polymers and metals, enabling tailored solutions for renovation projects (Harris, 2022). Techniques like Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) and robotic 3D metal printing (WAAM) have been developed to fabricate large-scale building components with enhanced efficiency and customisation (Biswas et al., 2017; Xin et al., 2021). This flexibility positions AM as a transformative force in addressing the complexities of modern construction requirements.

The Environmental and Economic Benefits of Additive Manufacturing

One of AM’s most compelling advantages lies in its potential to mitigate the environmental footprint of traditional construction practices (Comstock et al., 2012). By minimising raw material consumption and waste generation, AM presents a relatively sustainable alternative for constructing complex structures while reducing CO2 emissions (Yao et al., 2020). Furthermore, the integration of services within complex geometries enhances building functionality, offering multifunctional solutions that align with the principles of sustainable design (De Schutter et al., 2018).

Economically, AM streamlines construction processes by minimising labour-intensive activities and on-site assembly, thereby reducing costs and improving productivity (Avrutis et al., 2019). Complex designs that were previously deemed impractical or costly can now be realised efficiently through AM, fostering innovation and design freedom in the construction sector (Labonnote & Rüther, 2017). Overall, these benefits, including waste reduction, enhanced design flexibility, and improved productivity, underscore AM’s potential to reshape construction practices globally (Yao et al., 2020; De Schutter et al., 2018).

The Challenges and Future Directions in Additive Manufacturing

Despite its potential, AM faces several challenges that impede widespread adoption in construction. High initial investment costs, coupled with a shortage of qualified personnel skilled in AM technologies, pose significant barriers for industry-wide integration (Deloitte, 2016). Additionally, the lack of standardised testing and regulation hinders confidence in AM’s structural integrity and safety, necessitating efforts to establish comprehensive standards (Martínez-García et al., 2021). As the industry navigates these challenges, further research and standardisation are essential to fully unlock AM’s transformative power in construction (Martínez-García et al., 2021).

Looking ahead, future research should focus on enhancing large-scale AM capabilities, optimising material compositions, and advancing 4D printing technologies to usher in a new era of smart, sustainable construction practices (Xiao et al., 2021; Pan & Zhang, 2021). Fostering a skilled workforce and promoting collaboration between industry stakeholders and regulatory bodies will be essential for navigating the transition towards AM-driven construction methodologies (Deloitte, 2016).

Additive manufacturing represents a transformative paradigm shift in the construction industry, offering sustainable, cost-effective solutions for meeting the evolving demands of modern architecture. While challenges persist, the ongoing advancements and growing interest in AM underscore its potential to redefine the future of construction.

To learn more about deep renovation technologies in general, you can download the open access book ‘Disrupting Buildings: Digitalisation and the Transformation of Deep Renovation’ for free. In the book, we explore various digital innovations disrupting and transforming the construction sector. To download the full open access book, ‘Disrupting Buildings,’ click here.


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