3D printing is not the death of construction, we are!




See the problem is not that the construction industry is archaic or 3D printing technology. The fundamentals, which are grounded in science, will never change. Let’s look at the advances over time.

We started with wood, then moved to stone. Now we use concrete and steel. What’s the difference? Not much really. The fundamentals are all exactly the same. A solid foundation, strong walls and then a roof.

Where too from here? Well, in 2000’s we still have a solid foundation, just that we can now dig down further than ever before. This let’s us build higher than ever before, fancier shapes than ever before.

Then this ‘new’ technology came along 3 Dimensional printing of buildings. OMG! Let’s just stop for a second and look at this technology. 3D printers print with conventional construction materials, concrete, polymers, etc. It has a large machine to print with or simply prints smaller modules.

When the Dubai government printed the world’s first office building, and to be clear I am using the term ‘printed’ losely. They used the services of a Chinese company SunWin. Now as the story unfolds, the building was printed in modules, brought to site to be ercted. Which was followed by finishing trades to complete the building. (See links below to reference article and YouTube videos).

Now how is this any different to how we have been building? Its not. Call me a critic, but we are seeing a shift in construction. Why? Because as an industry, we have lost our way. We have broken down our trades so much that we can no longer call tradesmen, ‘Tradesmen.’

We are specialists in our fields. For example, drywall installers (plasterer, setter) once was one trade where one person, fixing (sheeting), taping (setting), sanding, soctia (cornice) install. Guess what, each one of them are now sub-trades. You can call yourself and ‘AND WE’ let people do this, call themselves tradesmen.

It has nothing to do with technology, look at our trends in the last 30years. As business gets tougher and tougher, companies start to niche down, specialize in a small portion of their respective trade.

Where we have failed as an industry, we have highly specialized companies that employ apprentices. That is great for the first year and a half. Now that apprentice is great at one portion of his trade. What happens when they go out into the world as a ‘Tradesmen.’

These poor tradesmen suddenly have a real wake up call. They go out, go to work for another company that specializes in a different section of their trade. The apprentice learned a little of everything will doing his college theory work, but never experienced it in the real world his whole trade.

Here is the problem, the industry just failed him. We just set up another apprentice for failure. We didn’t teach his trade; we gave him an insight into the world of his trade. This is where it all collapses in a heap. This apprentice has now had to learn real quick what he now thinks is his trade ‘by himself’. Now assuming, and I mean assuming he got taught the fundamentals of his trade he may do alright. But what happens when he employs an apprentice?

Now we have a problem. This tradesman, that may or may not be taught the fundamentals is now teaching the next generation of tradesmen. And this has been going on for generation after generation. As business niche’s down, the real victims are the future generations of tradesmen.

When you go back in time, and you only have to go back as far as the 70’s. An apprentice had to do at least 4 years, some trades longer. Now days, you can get a trade certificate in matter of a few years, sometimes quicker. You only have to prove that you ‘know how to’ do something, you don’t even have to show you doing it.

3D printing is not the problem; 3D printing has evolved out of opportunity and leverage of technology. 3D printing buildings don’t have a building built in half the amount of time. Nor does modular buildings result in the building built in half the time.

No, what these new building methods/technologies do, reduce the ‘onsite’ time. Once a wall has been ‘printed,’ it still needs to be finished. Tradesmen are still required to complete finishes, fixtures and everything else.

Modular buildings are the same; they are simply built in a factory, which still takes time. The only difference from the outside, the ‘onsite’ time is reduced. Guess what, everyone in these ‘new’ technologies are marketing their buildings get completed quicker. I dare you to ask what the ‘lead’ time is? Suddenly your onsite time doesn’t look so good; it looks very much the same as a ‘covenantal’ build.

So why the new technology companies? Simple, try finding a good tradesman that knows their entire trade? A tradesman that knows the fundamentals?

They are few and far between, and as the older generations retire, we are screwed. It has nothing to do with technology that is going to disrupt the building industry. Technology is going step in to fill the gap that we have created in our handing down of our trades.

Buildings will always need a foundation, walls, and a roof. Buildings will always need to be maintained over time. There will always be a need for tradesmen. There simply won’t be any tradesmen.

Reference materials

First office building

1- http://newatlas.com/3d-printed-office-dubai-completed/43522/
2- https://youtu.be/a0FNKGTNIhE