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Author's profile photo Jennifer Scholze

3D Printing Extends From Building Individual Products To Entire Buildings

First published in the Digitalist by Folkert Haag




Digital transformation is sweeping through industries. The building products sector is not immune to these changes. Our industry is projected to grow going forward. However, leaders are taking new approaches to building products, and one area that has gained attention is 3D printing.

American Standard notes that, “3D printing will have a major disruptive effect on the design and construction industry.”

Businesses are producing everything from faucets and doors to entire buildings. But what benefits are they seeing? Is 3D printing increasing digital customer engagement? Is it becoming easier to provide custom work? What are the drawbacks? Let’s look at how 3D printing is disrupting our industry and how to take advantage of the change.

Potential for 3D printing and building efficiencies

The advent of 3D printing brings interesting potential for the building products industry. For many decades, efficiency in construction projects happened by pre-fabricating and duplicating structures. This led to a strong interest in customization to set a building apart from similar copies in the area. Technology, such as 3D printing, that allows for customization gives builders the option of creating inexpensive, custom, quickly sourced products. Winsun Global, an early leader in whole-building 3D printing, is working on the world’s first printed office building. Everything – down to the furniture and interior – will be produced from 3D printing. Business models will be impacted as these innovations become the norm.

Benefits of 3D printing for the building products industry

There are many benefits to implementing 3D printed products in the building industry. Lower costs can be achieved through speed of production. This is true even for customized pieces developed by the customer. This opens up the custom market to those who could not have afforded it before. Inventory can be reduced significantly, as needed parts can be printed onsite, also saving time otherwise spent ordering and waiting for a specific material. Being able to duplicate a facility through 3D printing allows easy installation and use of sensors that can track and control everything from electricity and heat to security. These sensors can improve efficiency and tenant satisfaction while reducing the related costs of operation across the duplicates.

Issues with 3D printed building products

There are still many risks and issues with 3D printed building products. Current capabilities allow only for rough pieces to be printed. Pieces that require exact specifications may require a lot of finishing work to be functional. The newness of 3D printing means standards are still being developed. This can lead to quality-control issues with unforeseen consequences. Even once quality is assured through testing and standards, consumers may still perceive substandard quality. Though it is now a reality, sensors, Big Data, and the Internet of Things still seem like science fiction to many people. If not handled correctly, issues from early 3D printed products and their limitations may stay in consumer memory for years to come.

Forging ahead with 3D printed building products

As 3D printed building products become more common and continue to come down in cost, product and material suppliers must have a solid grasp of the potential opportunities to adapt to the changing landscape. Instead of remaining simply a manufacturing firm, the companies will need to provide technology and innovative solutions. For example, adding appropriate IT assets to keep pace with changes in the digital economy. How? When a new trend starts to take off with DIY communities, digital assets can provide analytics. Whether it’s a new type of window or the ability to design the perfect door for an historic home, you can stay ahead of the curve.

How will 3D printed building products impact your business model?

It’s not just 3D printing that will affect your business model. Digitization, hyperconnectivity, and digital business will also have a tremendous impact. Many other changes to and disruption of the business landscape will cause issues as well. Beyond 3D printing, you’ll need to adjust your business model. You’ll need to use analytics to create a lean, flexible enterprise. Companies that don’t embrace these changes will be less likely to anticipate market changes and will at best be able to survive on reactive decisions with backward-facing information. This will lead to further market losses and poor positioning in the industry. By digitizing your business in a comprehensive fashion, you can position it for success.

Are you ready to position your business for significant success and successful leaner operations?

Early adopters are seeing significant gains as the building products industry goes through disruption. They have a comprehensive response to create a superior customer experience. Wienerberger, for example, is offering a one-stop shop for roofs that includes all materials and installation. Nest is not just a thermostat company; it isorchestrating an ecosystem of home automation partners to empower consumers to optimize their home environments. Improved collaboration and engagement of workers and suppliers provide superior results. The Internet of Things provides new insights and opportunities. Your core workflow, finance, operations, and logistics are optimized for flexibility and profitability.

The businesses that do not digitize are viewed as out of touch. This is causing losses because of everything from slow or nonexistent social media response to poor digital business models.

Is it time to digitize your business, whether you’re adopting 3D printing or other innovative options? Is it time to optimize your operation for top flexibility and agility? Click here to learn more about Digital Transformation in Building Products.

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