As construction undergoes massive digital disruption, clauses may need to be re-defined to account for inevitable changes in process.
Additive manufacturing, often known as 3D printing, is a key component of the digital revolution that is transforming manufacturing. Advances in digital data technology are enabling on-demand production and decentralised manufacturing. They allow more integrated planning and production processes, which leads to improvements in product quality and a shorter supply chain. One of the most exciting aspects of 3D printing is that it unlocks the potential for ‘virtual warehousing’. Instead of manufacturers having to maintain a physical stock of components, they can instead store a digital file that can be printed when the part is required – a true, just-in-time manufacturing system that would have a massive impact on the supply chain for the construction industry.
Digital supply chain:
The traditional model for the supply of spare parts comes with constraints such as the need for low-cost mass production, cheap labor, and storage as well as equipment to move the components. 3D printing bypasses these issues with its low-volume production of customer-specific items.
This not only eliminates the need for large scale production facilities, heavy equipment and specialised tools, but also reduces the number of people involved on the shop floor in semi/unskilled labor.
Used properly, additive manufacturing lowers the costs related to machine downtime and eliminates the long lead-times and large orders necessitated by minimum order quantities (MOQs) frequently attached to the procurement of spare parts. The process creates almost zero waste and lowers the risk of overproduction and excess inventory, reducing the need for physical warehousing facilities.
The entire value chain can be the part of a digital thread from the creation of the 3D file for the component, storage in a 3D digital file format and production of the part on-demand using polymer/metal 3D printing machines. This will result in an agile supply chain that can rapidly adapt to changes in the market. Construction companies in the region have shown considerable interest in adopting 3D printing technologies.
Recently, Arabian Construction Company (ACC) partnered with Abu Dhabi’s 3DCreations to explore virtual warehouse concepts.
“After having initial experience with 3D printing of spare parts,” says ACC’s technical manager, Wael Boureslan. “We want to explore further the benefits it can bring to us like reduced lead times, cost per part and reducing the inventory needs.”
There are challenges to the large-scale adoption of 3D printing in the construction industry. Spare parts in this sector are mainly for earth moving, lifting and other heavy industry equipment. The dimensions of these parts can vary enormously and, currently, there are size restrictions on 3D printed metal spare components.
While some steel, nickel alloys and aluminium can be used for specific applications, there is a limited choice of financially viable, industry-specific materials suitable for metal additive manufacturing.
Significant levels of dimensional tolerances for functionality, part strength and other mechanical properties for the suitable application, can be met with the existing metal additive manufacturing solutions.
3D printing can be used to create a master patterns for investment and vacuum casting processes, providing a cheaper option for producing metal and plastic spare parts. With polymer spare parts, most of the common plastic materials are available for 3D printing. However, post production work on the component may be required in order to achieve higher tolerances for form-and-fit functions, superior surface finishes, and for repeatability of dimensional accuracy in high volumes.
To address some of these limitations, the design of spare parts could be improved with with parts consolidation, topology optimisation or material replacement to enhance the performance of a product and bring it within the range of capabilities of 3D printing.
FEASIBILITY STUDY AND COST ANALYSIS:
The S.M.A.R.T Construction Research Group at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), led by Professor Borja Garcia de Soto, is studying the productivity and cost analysis of additive manufacturing in construction projects. One of the objectives of the group is to investigate the impact of 3D printing on the construction supply chain (CSC).
It is observed that although the number of participants in the CSC using 3D printing is not significantly different, their interactions and level of coordination at various stages has an impact on the lead time and production rate of the supply chain.
For example, during the design phase, extra effort is required to integrate features into the 3D printed elements, such as conduits for different MEP elements or architectural details. This leads to additional time being spent at that stage; however, the extra coordination pays off in subsequent phases of the supply chain by streamlining later processes and saving time during construction.
Based on ongoing simulations, preliminary results indicate that CSCs using 3D printing experience a reduction in the lead time (ranging from 15-18 per cent) and an increase in the production rate (ranging from 25-30 per cent) when compared to traditional CSCs.
Barriers to change
There are challenges that must be overcome before we see widespread adoption of additive manufacturing in the construction industry:
The construction industry is known for its resistance to change and an inability to embrace new technologies. Job loss is cited as a major concern that could be overcome by ensuring the full involvement of all employees during the implementation process, encouraging a sense of ownership of the technology.