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The mention of 3D printing alone is enough to get people excited, often conjuring images of a desktop console that can download and create three dimensional objects such as prototypes, or mechanical parts. And yet, in recent years the technology has given way to a slight impatience, as people begin to wonder how and when it will have a direct impact on both their lifestyles and their businesses.

The construction industry has been quick to take advantage of these innovations, and the effects are tangible, especially regarding building safety. The 3D construction technology allows for several key advantages in terms of faster construction times, uncompromised quality of construction and lower costs—allowing for affordable dwellings to be quickly built for people in need. 

These advantages also lead to safety improvements during the building process. The ability to accelerate construction time without requiring an increase in labor results in a fewer construction-related workplace injuries and a reduction in material waste, making it an environmentally friendly construction method as well.

ICC-Evaluation Service (ICC-ES), a subsidiary of the International Code Council (ICC) which develops model codes and standards (i.e. International Building Code, International Residential Code) and delivers a wide array of building safety services, has taken the lead on developing acceptance criteria to address building code compliance of 3D printed construction. Currently, 3D construction technology is not within the provisions of the International Building Code (IBC) or International Residential Code (IRC). The acceptance criteria introduces new compliance measures for interior and exterior 3D printed concrete walls (with and without structural steel reinforcement), load-bearing and non-load-bearing walls, and shear walls in one-story, single-unit, residential dwellings. The 3D walls are constructed by printing two outer layers of 3D concrete and then filling the core with 3D concrete to form a solid wall.

This technology is expected to undergo significant advancements in the coming years. In Dubai, for example, new regulations require that by 2025, every building must be constructed with 25 percent of its material derived from 3D construction.

On the Horizon

3D printing is hardly the only innovation to improve building safety in recent years. High-performance fire-resistant coating applications, drones that monitor construction and observe post-disaster building damage, code enforcement at modular construction factories and technologies that mitigate water penetration are just a few examples of the industry’s rapid progress.

These innovations save lives and prevent injuries—not only for the people who end up living in these buildings but for the people who design and construct them.  Plus, these advances help individuals and governments spend money more efficiently and sustainably. This, in turn, goes a long way toward providing safe and secure buildings for all communities, domestic and global. 

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