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Digital Construction and 3D Printing

Digital construction is the use and application of digital tools to improve the process of delivering and operating the built environment” In general terms that will translate into making the delivery, operation and renewal of our built environment safer, more efficient and more collaborative.


“Digital construction is the use and application of digital tools to improve the process of delivering and operating the built environment”

Examples of Digital Construction

Adopting digital technology means implementing a data-driven approach;

      • It could mean that we are providing data to control earth moving equipment directly or during leveling and so on automatically.
      • It could be construction workers on the field who are consuming digital data on their tablet or on their phone
      • It could be the site office on the site using a touch-screen to do a project progress review.

But the most exciting one is the use of new kinds of technology to capture construction progress and their context capture. Photogrammetry application is one such example where we can fly a drone over the site, take photos from the site, and automatically create 3D models that everyone in the construction can see and share.

How Can Digital Help Construction?

Digital construction management, through Building Information Modeling (BIM) and a connected data environment, enables both broad and detailed views of all phases of a project, helping mitigate or avoid problems that can stall a project.


An important advantage of a complete digital construction process is its ability to be both predictive and reactive. In contrast with earlier digital forms, digital twinning through BIMs goes beyond simply speeding up analog processes to driving improvements in core project management practices, thereby reducing project delays.

Digital Construction Technology

For the construction industry, digital technologies have enabled new ways of working that hold the mirror up to a lot of our old practices. This is particularly pronounced in the case of building information modeling (BIM) which demands a highly collaborative culture.


They’re pushing boundaries with the concepts of “BIM Level 3”, “big data” and “smart cities”, enabling us to make informed decisions on the operation and renewal of our built environment from the aggregated digital information that highlights trends and statistics.

Digital Construction and Digital Engineering

They are a bit different from each other. Digital Engineering takes place in the precursor phase. It mainly focuses on infrastructure so we generally classify around design, construction, and operation, so Digital Engineering tends to start in the design phase because that’s where we create digital engineering content of digital engineering models.


Those models are passed over to construction. So, it depends on Digital Engineering activities that are carried out through the design phase.

The role of Cloud Technology In Digital Construction

Cloud is very important because most of the business processes are moving to the Cloud and construction is no exception. Data sharing is a big issue and often the design team is remote from the construction team and using the Cloud as a communication medium is an obvious thing to do.


The adoption rate of Cloud computing in construction is fantastic. With the jump in technology, as we evolved from the landline network to cell phones to wireless networks, the same thing will happen in Cloud computing.

Benefits of 3D Printing for Construction

Now that you know a little about how it’s done, let’s discuss why we do it. One might think we have good technologies for building different structures.

Fast Production

3D Printing in the construction industry means greatly reduced production time. That’s because the machines themselves are very fast, some of them are capable of manufacturing 600 to 800-square-foot (55 to 75-square-meter) home in just 24 hours.

Almost Zero Material Waste

The main advantage of using 3D printing in the construction industry is saving a lot of production costs on material waste. That’s because a 3D printer, such as robotic arms, uses exactly the amount of material they need. Producing buildings layer by layer and with lattice structures inside allows for a huge cost reduction.

Cost-Effectiveness of 3D Printing in the Construction Industry

As mentioned above, using Additive Manufacturing allows for less material usage and involves fewer people to work on construction. 3D printing is also a much faster technology. Those factors radically reduce the costs of building any 3D printed construction.   While 3D printing structures, we use just the amount of material we need, therefore we are eco-friendly and save money.  

Innovative Design

The last, but just as important benefit of using 3D printing in the construction industry, is all the innovative solutions it brings. 3D technologies can improve your project planning as they can be used already at the design stage.

Technologies used for 3D Printing in Construction Sector

There are different technologies which are explained below:

Robotic Arm Extruders

One of them is a robotic arm extruder, this technology is called contour crafting. It is fairly similar to how FDM desktop 3D printers work. The rails are arranged to let the robotic arm move; and within the limits of the rails, the arm will build the house layer by layer by extruding concrete material from the nozzle. This is the most popular 3D printing technology used to build XL structures.

Sand 3D Printing


The next 3D technique is more similar to industrial 3D Printing such as SLS or Jet Fusion. The pioneer who tested it is the Italian architect Enrico Dini, who built his D-Shape 3D printer.

Metal Technology

Last but not least, for structures such as bridges, which have to withstand more stress, Dutch company MX3D developed Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM).

The Best 3D Printed Construction Projects

3D printing opens new design possibilities, brings the costs down and produces sustainable construction projects with low environmental impact.

3D Printed Bridges

Additive Manufacturing in the construction industry is not just about buildings. Applications of 3D printing can also be highly beneficial to manufacture bridges. Thanks to the ability to create some really complex structures, but also build strong, durable constrictions. We actually just wrote about the longest 3D printed bridge in the world printed recently in China!

World’s First 3D-Printed Steel Bridge

In 2015, Dutch 3D printing company MX3D unveiled their plans to print the footbridge. Now that it’s complete, The Bridge, as its called, is on display through Oct. 28.


Though the engineers originally announced that The Bridge would be built in 2 months, it ended up taking about a year for the full 40-foot-long span to be printed. All the while, MX3D opened its doors to allow visitors to observe the bridge’s printing. Since its completion in March 2018, engineers have been installing sensors that will track the bridge’s structural integrity, surrounding environment, and displacement and vibration, which will provide an estimate of how many people cross it. All that data will be fed into a computer model that the engineers call the bridge’s “digital twin,” allowing engineers to monitor the bridge’s overall safety and condition in real time.


The result is not only striking—it would look at home on the set of a sci-fi film—but also hints at a new direction for 3D printing. The Bridge combines two emerging sectors: sensors for large-scale construction projects like buildings, bridges, and dams, along with adventurous new horizons in 3D printing, like building houses, artificial coral reefs, and even repairing components in space

China's first 3D-printed bridge ready to welcome Visitors

China’s first 3D-printed bridge set up in Shanghai’s Putuo District on Friday. At the unveiling ceremony, the landscape bridge, which is 15.25 meters in length, 3.8 meters in width and 1.2 meters in height, was decorated with a coat of fresh paint. 

It took designers over six months to chart the bridge, but only 35 days to mold the S-shaped metal-gilded bridge at one stretch by means of 3D printing technology, according to Chen Xiaoming, general engineer of the manufacturer Shanghai Construction Group (SCG).

Compared to traditional bridges, the high-tech bridge was made from resin and fiberglass instead of concrete and steel, which holds even greater weight capacity, and is safe for pedestrians.

During the construction, two robotic arms were applied to create all the main parts, helping save costs and improving efficiency. People responsible for the project said the bridge can be used for 30 years.

Concrete 3D Printing

Eindhoven is known for its many 3D printing concrete experiments. But do you know that a project of 3D printed concrete houses is planned in Eindhoven? This project will start to be 3D printed in the Eindhoven University, using concrete 3D printers, and move progressively on the construction site.

Waste Concrete Repurposed into Public Furniture with 3D Printing

Waste concrete from demolished buildings is to be reinvented and made into new custom-made outdoor memorials and public garden furniture thanks to a new, innovative £6m project using 3D printing.

Currently, around 65 million tonnes of demolition waste enters landfill across north west Europe (NWE) each year, whilst demand on natural resources for the production of new building materials remains high. Concrete production currently requires the extraction of 54 million tonnes of marine sand annually in NWE alone, with the dredging of this sand being unsustainable and causing damage to fragile marine beds and life. But, a new project from Manchester Metropolitan University, and partners across Europe, aims to change this, taking Recycled Fine Aggregates (RFA), which are produced when concrete from demolished buildings is crushed, and using it to create 3D-printed concrete designs.

US military 3D prints concrete barracks on Site

In a world first, the US Armed Forces has 3D printed a barracks out of concrete on site at an army base, in less than two days.

The Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) constructed the 46-square-metre building in 40 hours at the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Champaign, Illinois.

“This is the first-in-the-world on-site continuous concrete print,” said Captain Matthew Friedell, a project officer from the MCSC additive manufacturing team. “People have printed buildings and large structures, but they haven’t done it on-site and all at once.”


It’s a really exciting time for the industry to understand and implement it. These construction technologies are here to help make our lives easier. They don’t come with the years of experience that we all have and they’re not here to replace anybody.


About the Author

This article is written by Engr. Aslam Baig.  

Who is a Civil Engineer by Profession.

(c) Some Rights Reserved.

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