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09 June 2017

BIM, 3D Printing and the Construction Industry

BIM and 3D printing are revolutionising the construction industry. 3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing and involves the layering of materials by a machine to create a physical object.

The digital data from a virtual model informs the printer how to successively layer the material. The virtual model can be created from a BIM modelling application, such as Revit or Rhino, or from information gathered by a 3D scan.

Applications Across Every Sector

While the technology has been around for more than 30 years, it was mostly limited to industrial uses until 2009 when patents started expiring. Since the technology has become more widely accessible, 3D printing has rapidly advanced, transforming the way almost anything can be made.

3D printing isn’t limited by material; nylon, aluminium, resin, stainless steel, gold, titanium, ceramic, concrete and even food can all be ‘printed’. New materials are announced virtually every day and the most advanced printers can even print several materials at the same time. The technology has applications across virtually every sector from aerospace and medical applications to biotechnology and food production.

What Does 3D Printing Mean for the Construction Industry?

3D printers have been used in the industry for a number of years. The technology has become so accessible that many architecture and design firms now have their own printers. Scale models, traditionally made from card or balsa, created to test or communicate a design can now be printed in-house.

The technology is now being used to fabricate complete structures with crane sized mobile printing machines. There have been a number of early experiments around the world including 3D printed houses in China, a fully functioning office in Dubai and a proposed steel bridge in Amsterdam. Potential benefits offered by the technology include improved productivity, reduced labour costs and safer working environments.

The Future of 3D Printing in Construction

While traditional construction methods are unlikely to be displaced any time soon, the more likely scenario will be that specific building components are printed, rather than entire buildings.

The technology, which is intrinsically linked with advances in BIM, has the potential to revolutionise the industry, but exactly what the future holds is unclear. 3D printing is just one of the emerging innovations from the age of digitisation in the construction industry.

Tomorrow’s building engineers and architects need to master the software programming skills on which BIM and 3D printing are based. At J.V. Tierney & Co. we are proud to be industry leaders, adopting and championing new technologies, such as BIM, as they become available. For more information on how we are playing our part in revolutionising the consulting engineering design industry in Ireland, visit our website www.jvtierney.ie or call us anytime on 00353 1 421 4900