3D Printing Strengthens Sustainable Construction

By Anup Mathew February 15, 2024

By using a precise amount of material to construct a structure, it can reduce waste generation at job sites by up to 50 percent

3D Printing Strengthens Sustainable Construction
One of the most promising technologies revolutionising the construction sector in India is 3D printing. Shutterstock

India, on its journey to achieve its ambitious net-zero emissions target by 2070, faces a formidable challenge in addressing the carbon footprint of its construction sector. Responsible for approximately 20 percent of the nation's annual carbon emissions, the construction industry is key to achieving a balance between the nation’s rapid urbanisation, economic growth, and environmental sustainability.

Fortunately, with new construction practices and evolving technologies, a paradigm shift is underway. The adoption of sustainable construction is paving the way towards a more environmentally responsible and resource-efficient construction sector. 

One of the most promising technologies revolutionising the construction sector in India is 3D printing. This innovative approach significantly enhances construction timelines by automating the building process, leading to increased speed and efficiency in project completion.

This acceleration in construction is matched by an improvement in material efficiency, as construction 3D printing minimises waste through precise usage of resources, thereby promoting sustainable construction practices. Furthermore, the flexibility offered by construction 3D printing technology is unparalleled; it enables the construction of highly customised structures, adeptly catering to a diverse array of architectural demands and design preferences.

Benefits of Construction 3D Printing:

Construction 3D printing substantially reduces the time required to complete projects, as per industry research. Traditional construction methods often result in projects taking months to complete, with large projects typically running 20 percent longer than expected and incurring up to 80 percent in cost overruns.

In contrast, construction 3D printing has the potential to reduce construction time by up to 40 percent, enabling projects to be completed in just hours or days, depending on their scale. This speed allows contractors to undertake more projects, thereby potentially increasing their revenue streams.

Further, construction 3D printing introduces enhanced efficiency in material usage. By using a precise amount of material to construct a structure, it can reduce waste generation at job sites by up to 50 percent.

This precision also means there's no surplus in material purchases, leading to cost reductions in both procurement and storage. The combination of time and cost savings makes 3D printing especially beneficial in locations with high project demand and labour shortages. 

Construction 3D printing eliminates the need for building formwork, thus resulting in the realisation of concrete structures quickly and cost-effectively. The power of automation and robotics in construction 3D printing offers unparalleled freedom while designing and building a structure.

It enables the construction of complex geometries in a fully automated setup. The curvilinear shape and 3D-printed textures are intriguing and engage a viewer’s attention instantly.Traditional construction methods are limited and unable to achieve such organic, parametric designs with sophisticated geometries without severe cost and time implications.

Also, special in-fill patterns with the virtue of construction 3D printing provide good air cavities, resulting in better insulation from the outside atmosphere by providing a slight reduction in the inside surface temperature.

Role of sustainable construction materials

The choice of materials plays a crucial role in achieving sustainability in construction.Cement, which alone is responsible for 8 percent of carbon emissions, highlights the need for alternative construction materials. 

Recycled concrete aggregates sourced from construction and demolition waste embody the principles of sustainability by effectively recycling waste material, thereby reducing the need for new raw materials and minimising the environmental impact associated with their extraction and processing. 

The potential of combining technology with sustainable solutionsto reduce emissions

Use of eco-friendly materials in Construction 3D printing is changing the game in reducing construction-related emissions. There are two key types of emissions to consider. The first type is operational emissions, which are the greenhouse gases emitted during a building’s use, mainly from heating, cooling, and lighting.

Construction 3D printing makes a big difference here by enabling the creation of energy-efficient building designs. For example, it allows for intricate design features that improve insulation or even integrate renewable energy sources, like solar panels, directly into the structure. This can significantly lower the energy use of a building, thus reducing its ongoing emissions.

The second type is embodied emissions, which are all the emissions involved in the life cycle of building materials, including their production, transportation, and disposal. 3DCP is an additive manufacturing process that intrinsically allows for the use of less material to construct (print) a given building element as compared to conventional construction through design optimisation.

A construction 3D printer uses the resources with precision, thus cutting down on waste. Construction 3D printing also offers a lot of scope to use recycled materials to reduce the huge environmental impact of concrete. 

Construction 3D printing technology in combination with good planning tools can revolutionise building practices, offering rapid, cost-effective solutions in areas with significant housing needs and promoting eco-friendly commercial establishments.

(Anup Mathew is Senior Vice President and Business Head, Godrej Construction.)