3D-Printed Homes Are The Future of Construction


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3D printing is making its way into the construction industry — and opponents fear how it might impact the job market. In Houston, Cive’s giant printer is constructing the first 3D-printed two-story house. A small workforce stands alongside the machine, but the team’s size doesn’t compare to the size of a typical construction crew. While some might see this as a threat to labor markets, the technology can create markets for new, higher-skilled jobs and save the housing industry from its current worker shortage. Overall, the benefits of 3D-printed homes outweigh the disadvantages: houses of the future can be cost-effective, safer and more sustainable. 

3D printing isn’t a brand-new technology; several printed homes have already been built or are currently being constructed across several states. However, the use of technology continues to grow as more companies begin to recognize its benefits. Last fall, the Credit Suisse forecast said that 3D printing could grow up to 30% in the next year, which would significantly change the construction industry. Manual labor primarily dominates the construction industry, but the new method would create higher-skilled tech jobs and decrease the physical demand. And while some might argue that this poses a threat to machinists, it could give them outstanding employment opportunities. 

Greg Morris, co-founder and CEO of GE Aviation, told Business Insider that 3D printing challenges the current state of machining: “you’ll get complex parts that a machinist will have to work with versus starting with a block of material. So you’re not replacing machinists; you’re just asking them to learn a little different skill set of what they start with and work with,” he said. Thus, while the switch to 3D printing might alter machinists’ traditional manufacturing responsibilities, that labor market will by no means vanish. Due to enhanced geometric precision abilities, machinists will also have more freedom to create structures that would otherwise be impossible to develop. 

Aside from machinist labor, opponents of 3D printing fear that the presence of large on-site construction crews poses a threat to those currently employed in the construction industry. However, the National Association of Home Builders cited a lack of construction workers for a recent housing shortfall. Chief economist Robert Dietz said it now takes up to four months longer to build a home than before the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortage increasing demand and loss of lumber, appliances and workers. Despite construction companies paying an hourly wage higher than nearly all private sectors, it’s not enough to keep workers in the industry due to dangerous physical demands. The capability of complete construction without massive crew demands makes 3D printing a solution to this worker shortage. 

Because 3D printing reduces the manual labor required, employers can benefit from labor input savings and the construction industry can build houses more quickly. 3D printing does not use wet construction, which requires time and generates much waste. A recent study shows that 3D printing requires 34% fewer man-hours than traditional construction methods. In addition, although the study shows that material costs are more expensive for 3D printing, construction costs are cheaper. 

Since it is a relatively new technique, studies can’t confirm how long it will take for construction and maintenance savings to account for increased material costs. But the fact that the technology is fresh paves the way for future investments and advancements that can reduce that initial expense. Hikmat Zerbe, head of structural engineering at Cive, acknowledged the drawbacks of installation costs. But he also said that once the technology is improved, “builders may reach a point where such construction is cheaper than non-printed housing.” 

The future is promising for economic-friendly enhancements to 3D construction in today’s fast-paced technological atmosphere. But arguably more important than improving long-term costs is addressing economic threats that traditional techniques impose. The National Library of Medicine’s review may provide more benefits, including waste reduction and energy conservation. For example, 3D printing uses additive manufacturing: products are built layer-by-layer rather than through the subtractive process, creating more waste. Additionally, the shortened process makes production more direct and efficient, which can reduce carbon emissions. Since the materials involved in 3D printing are easily reusable, they are more eco-friendly than those in fused deposition modeling.

Still, the National Library of Medicine recognizes legitimizing the technology as a gateway to environmental benefits. A significant concern of 3D printing techniques is that they need universal regulations that standardize processes and ensure safety. Industry leaders must collaborate with regulators and establish alternative construction materials and procedures standards. After regulations are implemented, 3D printing will benefit the environment, economy and workforce.

Lindsey Osit, FCRH ’24, is a journalism major from South Windsor, Conn.