Transforming the construction sector and adopting new technologies was talked about long before the pandemic upended life. But sadly, it was mostly just talk. Costs and barriers to entry were still high and many felt that there were more important things to focus on such as navigating the unknowns of Brexit and winning bidding wars for new frameworks.
But with second UK lockdown came the realisation that the pandemic was not a minor storm to be weathered. The economic and social effects would be far reaching. All those considerations about technology and transformation were suddenly looking very appealing. Because in a world where nothing was normal anymore, if companies wanted to stay afloat they needed to look at new ways of becoming more efficient.
Benefits of 3D printing and modular construction
3D printing is promoted as being more accurate, more efficient in terms of materials used and waste generated, and more cost effective – because construction completion is much faster. Another benefit is that construction can take on any form if supported by a robust design. This opens up more options for engineers and architects because they are no longer constrained by specific sizes or shapes that are considered standard. Initially one of the barriers to entry was the high investment cost in the 3D printing technology and machinery. However, as more companies see the benefits of 3D printing and the market starts to open up, this is becoming more affordable.
Currently most 3D printing happens off-site because many of the printing machines are large and difficult to transport. But as the industry expands this is likely to change with printers becoming smaller and easier to transport. Already many pilot projects for high rise buildings, bridges and housing projects are being completed using modular 3D printed components. They’re demonstrating what’s possible and success of these projects is likely promote further adoption.
For construction though, many questions remain. Will the industry be able to break away from old traditional construction methods? Will the benefit of 3D and modular construction outweigh the investment costs? What happens to the existing workforce if they’re no longer needed on site? With every form of innovation there are always opportunities and challenges. But if construction is serious about improving productivity then there may need to be a shift in thinking towards the solutions that new technology has to offer.