3-D Printing Could Change U.S. Cities Forever



By Jim Burch

Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3-D printing, is no longer a futuristic concept — it's here and being used every day — but its applications have no end in sight. We use 3-D printing for everything from electronics to tools to biological materials, and now engineers are using the technology on a much bigger scale... literally the size of a building, in fact.

3-D printing is completely changing the way we approach building materials, construction and architecture. We can now make better materials, for less money, and build faster. But 3-D construction is about more than just money and time, it's created an avenue to possibilities we never had with traditional construction methods.


Affordable Housing

From gentrification to economical hardship, cities continue to struggle finding affordable solutions for housing the lower class. Much of it comes down to politics and red tape, but some communities just can't foot the bill to build up new housing and infrastructure for America's poor. Because 3-D construction offers cheap and quick building in nearly every environment, governments now have the incentive to invest in affordable housing where it would otherwise be ignored.

Eco-Friendly Living

Aside from the environmental cost of crafting materials, building construction itself leaves a huge carbon footprint, causes unwanted noise and requires large machinery to complete (which equals more pollution and more noise). 3-D printing can put an end to all of that. Engineers have developed modular "smart blocks" for construction, not so different from Legos, that can be assembled on site to create sturdy structures that go up easily and quietly. Because assembly doesn't require large machines and many hours of human labor like traditional houses, a single-story home can start for as cheap as $5,000 (in lower priced markets). Not only will this make living in high-price markets like Los Angeles more affordable, the competition could even drive down rent prices for traditional homes.

Disaster Relief

If 3-D construction can have one impact that could truly change the world, it's this. In the wake of floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes, disaster relief is one of the most difficult and costly aspects to treating damage and homelessness as a result of these tragedies. Because infrastructure is almost always in shambles, simply getting traditional materials where they need to go, and importing equipment to put it all together, can seem impossible. Because 3-D printing can use natural materials like clay and mud, humanitarian organizations only need to send the printers into a disaster-stricken area where they can build the materials needed to construct basic homes and shelters. The practice has already been used in small disaster zones, but plans to go global in areas like Haiti which are still in need even years after a deadly earthquake.

A Limitless Future

We're only now seeing the very first possibilities for 3-D printing and its future is bright. While 3-D construction is now just a small part of the total market, we could possibly see it become the norm as the cost of production continues to fall. It's not an exaggeration to say that 3-D construction could be the answer nearly two billion people living in slums around the world are looking for.

Jim Burch is a freelance writer.

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