Web Exclusive

3D Printing’s Future in Construction

3-D Printer.

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has taken off in impressive ways. Using the technology, people have created everything from prosthetic limbs to food quicker than they would using other methods.

Greater efficiency made possible by 3D printing often helps to cut costs, and it could work in electrical construction industry too.

1. It reduces labor needs and increases job efficiency

The electrical construction industry is facing a labor shortage. 3D printing could ease the labor shortage, too. More specifically, it could cut the number of people required to do work at job sites. One 3D-printed home, called the Protohouse 1.0, already has holes drilled into the components to make wiring easier for people to show up and finish the job. 

When the Dubai Future Foundation 3D printed one of its buildings, the team of people overseeing the project included 10 specialists including electricians. Representatives reported that the overall labor costs were cut in half using 3D printing. 

When ECs can get jobs done correctly and efficiently, they save their employers money. Researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey recently embedded high-performance circuits within 3D printed plastics. They say this development caused a tenfold increase in conductivity, which could increase energy efficiency and device lifespan.

2. Electricians can 3D print parts they need on site

3D printing gives ECs the potential to create the parts they need when they need them. If a tool or part breaks on the job, ECs could print their own replacements instead of heading to the store or contacting a distributor. Having parts always ready to be printed means ECs could save money by keeping fewer extra parts on hand and by printing exactly what they need.

Consider generators, for example. There are many occasions when an EC may need to use generators for temporary power—after a natural disaster or during new construction. A recent achievement involved using a 3D printer to make a generator housing. This new ultra-strong component features a lattice structure and makes the generator's complex up to 30% lighter than a previous version. When ECs print components for generators on an as-needed basis, they could save money by only producing only the required numbers.

3. It helps ECs offer sustainable options in cost-effective ways

Many clients who hire electrical contractors request sustainable lighting upgrades. For example, in an Irish football stadium, electrical contractors handled updates concerning LED lights and energy-monitoring systems. How could 3D printing fit into these aims?

Signify is a lighting company that recently announced it could print 3D light shades and fittings to meet clients' precise specifications. Moreover, the company uses 100%-recyclable polycarbonate material in its process. Signify plans to establish 3D printing factories around the world to cater to clients. British retailer Marks & Spencer is among the firm's clients using such lighting in its stores.

Thanks to this merging of 3D printing and sustainability, ECs should soon find it easier to present eco-friendly possibilities to their clients. Those professionals also save money because sourcing the products is more straightforward. Some ECs may even be able to print them locally for a customer. 

4. It could increase the service life of grounding rods

3D printing also has the potential to fortify the steel equipment and parts ECs use, like grounding rods. Many of these steel pieces are galvanized to protect against corrosion, which shortens the service life of steel and significantly decreases its resistance.

Recently, Scientists have created a 3D-printed type of stainless steel that's up to three times stronger than what is conventionally produced. The researchers said past efforts to make stainless steel with 3D printing have been weak and overly porous, but this new method shows promise. 

When ECs have access to stronger materials, they can reduce costly repairs and decrease the time spent making those fixes. Plus, using materials that last longer allows contractors to feel more confident that they have avoided premature failures due to inadequate materials.

3D printing in electrical contracting is still in its infancy. However, as these examples show, ECs have exciting opportunities to implement this technology as it continues to develop.

 

About the Author

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a technology writer whose work has appeared on VentureBeat, Metering & Smart Energy International, VICE and The Huffington Post. To read more posts by Kayla, you can visit her blog, Productivity Bytes.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.