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Ghaith Bakir, Lead Regulatory Engineer-MEA, Codes and Regulatory Services, UL Solutions looks benefits and safety considerations of 3D printing in construction

First developed in the 1980s and rising to prominence in the 2000s, 3D printing has become an increasingly valuable tool for design and subsequently for the construction industry. It works by creating a digital model of almost any shape or design that is required which can then be printed to the necessary scale. In the construction industry, it can be used from as little as printing specific components to printing entire buildings, paving the way for reduced waste and lowering labour costs.

Ghaith Bakir, Lead Regulatory Engineer MEA, Codes and Regulatory Services at UL Solutions explains that in construction, 3D printing is an automated process of joining materials to make building elements and systems components from 3D model data, layer upon layer.

“This innovative construction technique is rapidly moving from a conceptual and experimental stage to a viable building construction method,” he tells, suggesting to anyone who has not seen how buildings can be constructed using 3D printing to search the internet for ‘3D Printed Building Videos’ as the results may be eye-opening.

Bakir says there are many benefits of 3D printing for the construction industry: “In construction it offers a significant potential to increase efficiency in the building sector, including time reduction, waste reduction, cost-effective innovative solutions, safety, and sustainability.”

Code compliant

As with any new method of construction so come the safety need for safety and compliance checks. The main challenges for 3D printing in construction, says Bakir, is that building code authorities want assurance that the new construction technique complies with applicable building construction code requirements, many of which are prescriptive in nature.

“Builders need to demonstrate that the 3D-printed structures comply with applicable building or residential codes to gain building code authority approval for 3D-printed construction in jurisdictions,” he explains. “Code compliance presents a challenge for both a builder and code authority because building and residential codes currently lack prescriptive requirements for 3D-printed construction.

“Even code requirements for concrete construction are not directly applicable for cementitious-based 3D-printed construction since the mortar and cement-based fabrication, printed in a layer-upon-layer fashion without forming members, are not specifically covered by the concrete standards referenced in the model codes.”

As it stands, there are no prescriptive code requirements for 3D-printed construction, and so Bakir says that building code authorities must consider each project under the alternate materials and methods provisions in the code for their evaluation and approval.

“This approach allows them to approve 3D-printed building constructions, provided they are shown to comply with the intent of the code provisions and provide the code-prescribed quality, strength, effectiveness, fire resistance, durability, and level of safety,” he says.

Tried and tested

He suggests using testing and evaluation data from standards such as UL 3401, Outline of Investigation for 3D-Printed Building Construction, which can be used to evaluate the printer, fabrication process, and materials used to verify that they consistently produce building elements with the same properties.

Bakir says: “Builders can use the document to create a report of findings, showing AHJs that their building assemblies comply with relevant codes and standards like UL 263, Standard for Fire tests of Building Construction and Materials, and NFPA 275, Standard Method of Fire Tests for the Evaluation of Thermal Barriers.

“This report provides AHJs with the technical information they need to inspect and approve 3D-printed buildings under the alternative materials and methods code provisions and will speed up the approval process.”

The future of construction

One place which has recognised the 3D-printed construction market opportunity, says Bakir, is Dubai: “The United Arab Emirates continues to incorporate innovative solutions and cutting-edge technologies, such as 3D printing, into nearly all aspects of its economy. In 2016, the Dubai government launched the “Dubai 3D Printing Strategy” to transform Dubai into a leading user, producer and exporter of global 3D printing processes, technologies, and associated services.”

Many Dubai organisations have implemented the 3D Printing Strategy, including the Dubai Municipality and Dubai Health Authority . In 2021, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has issued a decree to regulate the use of 3D printing in Dubai’s construction sector and support the region’s target of ensuring 25 percent of its buildings are constructed using 3D printing technology by 2030.

“The legislation will seek to enhance efficiencies in construction projects and improve the competitiveness of Dubai’s local industry while also reducing waste in the sector and attracting leading companies to Dubai’s construction industry,” Bakir adds.

This article was originally published in the November edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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