3D printing will shape the way we live and do business

Recent advancements in 3D printing, from a pill that promises to alleviate seizures to the creation of a 2,000-sq-ft building, have knock-on implications for the entire manufacturing sector

It was printing, albeit in its crudest form. An intricately carved seal, made of some precious stone like obsidian or amethyst, was rolled methodically onto wet clay, so that the image carved into the stone would transfer itself onto the clay.

Fast forward over 5,000 years and exchange the location of Mesopotamia for Dubai, and there is a new printing process that is set to revolutionise the industry.

3D printing has been steadily gaining traction in recent years, evolving from figurines printed in malls, to advancements that could change the way we access healthcare or do business. Of the former, there was a recent announcement that a 3D-printed pill called Spritam that can control seizures brought on by epilepsy has just been given approval to be produced by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Medical experts predicted that the ability to print a tablet could bring with it the possibility of making bespoke drugs too address the specific medical needs of a patient.

The technology also has potential to shape the entire manufacturing industry. Rather than large-scale factories existing on the outskirts of cities or towns producing huge volumes of one item, production could move much further into cities, possibly even individual households. This highly flexible, small-scale manufacturing approach brings up questions of whether there will even be manufacturing-specific regions or geographies in the future.

china 3D printed house
A 1,100 sq-m mansion built by Winsun Global using a 3D printer

In Dubai, 3D printing as a ‘small-scale’ approach was never on the cards.  The United Arab Emirates National Innovation Committee recently announced plans to erect an entire building using a 20-ft high printer that will be assembled on the build site.

All of the 2,000-sq-ft building – intended to be the headquarters of the Museum of the Future in Dubai – will be 3D-printed, from its exterior to its furniture.

Working collectively on the project are architecture and engineering firms Global Gensler, Thornton Thomasetti, and Syska Hennessy. Together they are led by WinSun Global, the Chinese company who already has achievements in this area – it printed an entire apartment building in China last year.

There are variety of materials needed to 3D print on such a large scale. Ma Yihe, the CEO of WinSun, says of the construction: “First we use the specialised massive printer to produce building components by laying up a special and patented ‘ink’ made of partially recycled products including concrete, fiberglass, sand, a special hardening agent and recycled construction waste. The components are then transferred to the building site and assembled together.”

Yihe adds that all interior furniture, detailing, and structural components will also be built using 3D printing technology, combining a mixture of Special Reinforced Concrete (SRC), Glass Fiber Reinforced Gypsum (GRG) and Fiber Reinforced Plastic (FRP).

Compared with traditional construction methods, Yihe says speed, strength and green concerns all are advantages of 3D printing.

“The speed of building is 50% faster than traditional way, the strength is 20-30% higher than constructed by traditional method, and it is more environmentally friendly. It will not have construction wastes – instead, it will consume the waste.”