The world suffers from a lack of housing.The technology could help address the global shortage of affordable housing. According to the World Resources Institute, the global affordable housing gap is expected to rise to 440 million households by 2025 - depriving roughly 1.6 billion people of an adequate and affordable home.
3D printing may be able to help. The technology enables new, significantly faster and more economical approaches to construction. Construction-related 3D printing processes differ slightly from traditional 3D printing, due to the size of the desired product; they involve a large, robotic arm that moves via railways that are installed around a building area as they extrude concrete, layer by layer. These large machines are able to create complete buildings, use less material than traditional construction by producing honeycomb-structured walls with minimal density, and require lower-cost materials that can keep expenses to a minimum.
Before it can be made available broadly for commercial use, however, construction-related 3D printing must be further tested, standardized, and approved by regulators. Still, both startups and established construction companies are already developing related projects, achieving breakthroughs, and using new materials. For example, US-based startup Apis Cor famously managed in 2017 to 3D print an entire 38-square-metre house in 24 hours - at a cost of about $10,000.
The Italian company WASP, for example, has developed a 3D printer that works on solar or wind power and is able to print eco-friendly shelters using local materials in regions without electricity.
In addition to reducing time and costs, 3D printing has an environmental impact on construction, as less material is used and less waste is produced; it also reduces the risk of accidents, and enables the creation of complex architectural shapes. It may also stir greater competition within the construction industry, potentially leading to lower prices and greater rates of ownership.
Overpopulated and fast-growing cities in particular stand to benefit from the technology. Dubai has announced that by 2025, 25% of its new buildings will be created using 3D printers - which could reduce the amount of required labour by 70%, and expenses by 90%. 3D printing can also help develop relatively inaccessible areas.