Construction Firms Look at 3D Printing

3D printing is fast becoming part of many industries, and construction is no exception.

SpaceX and NASA are using 3D printing to make rocket engines. American Standard is using it to make artistic new faucets. Medical device companies are printing medical implants, and apparel companies are printing shoes and clothing.

Contractors in St. Louis are getting on the 3D wave ­­– for marketing.

The AGC’s membership meeting last week shone a light on how St. Louis-based contractors are using 3D printing.

Sidney Parkhe described how McCarthy Building Cos. have used a 3D printer for six years to make project models. “We use them to show clients what their building will look like,” she said, and also to show the concrete guys what their work should look like when they are done.

The benefit is that people who aren’t familiar with how to read drawings and BIM models and hold it in their hands and better see what the design looks like.

Steve Faust said Icon Mechanical began using 3D printing three years ago “strictly as a marketing tool.” A scale model next to a scale printed “man” helps owners understand the size of the equipment Icon will install.

On the BJC Campus Renewal project, however, they found that the printed 3Dmodel also helped with coordination, constructability, and planning.

“We worked through the model with HOK, Jacobs, Sachs Electric, and Ben Hur, and it really opened eyes to how any changes affected others,” Faust said.

Having a physical 3D model, “helps you think about constructability,” he said. They used it to figure out how much they could prefab, and how big the prefab assemblies could be, and how far the cranes could reach.

The result, he said, is that instead of having 25 people in the field, they had four people prefabricate sections the traditional way in the shop, and six guys put it together in the field.

Are they using 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, to make parts or assemblies in the shop? Not yet.

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