3D printing is speeding up the automation of construction

As the technology scales up, it’s being tasked with providing robust new solutions—but it’s also running into some of the same old building problems

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It seems that every few months the architecture world marvels at the latest 3D-printed prototype or art installation and wonders at the future possibilities. But to a surprising extent, the future is already here. Companies worldwide are automating the construction of homes, offices, and other structures through techniques like 3D printing, robotic finishing, and automated bricklaying. And as more join this club—and governments and investors ramp up their support—the possibility of automation soon becoming the norm in construction is not so farfetched, addressing construction efficiency, sustainability, and even labor and housing shortages.

“3D printing [on a wide scale] is a lot closer than I thought,” notes Eric Holt, assistant professor at the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management at the University of Denver. “I used to believe it was at least five years out, but the ball has moved really quickly.”

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