3D printing is all the rage. Whether you think a 3D printer is worth the investment or not, many industries are jumping on the bandwagon to see just what it can do long-term. The steel industry is already using 3D printed steel to erect apartment buildings in Asia. The first residential apartment building was erected out of all 3D printed materials in China during the summer of 2014. What does this mean for the concrete industry? Is 3D printed concrete a real solution to building? Let’s look at the issue.

One of the perks of using concrete beyond its durability is that it’s easy and cheap to make. You can make it at a home or have a contractor supply it. However, when getting creative with concrete, it can be tougher to get the look you really want. That’s where the idea of 3D printed concrete truly comes into play. A 3D printer has been developed that can print concrete into intricate, geometrical and creative designs.

3Dealise, a 3D printing company, has teamed up with a construction company, Bruil, to create the 3D concrete printer. It can do a wide variety of things with concrete, including curved surfaces, mesh and honeycomb structuring. It can even create custom ornamental designs from concrete, something that can be done when laying concrete in other ways but takes a lot of time and energy to do.

CAD designs are used to create moulds for use in the printer. They are coated, which allows the concrete to separate easier. Bruil’s engineers have likened the process to metal casting used for thousands of years. During this process, metal is cast in sand. They explained that everything from concrete to steel to bronzes and more can be 3D printed and used in building and other projects.

When will we start seeing American companies start using 3D printed concrete? It’s too soon to tell, but things will start at small and as the industry regulates the safety concerns of using 3D printed concrete, things will take on from there.