- June 27, 2018
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: manufacturing
I always thought there were a few industries that were disruption-proof.
I mean, nothing is disruption-proof, and nothing is too big to fail, but there were a couple that, before it happened, seemed like it was too big and entrenched to have anything happen to it.
At one point, we thought the news industry was disruption proof, but Craigslist and blogs, as well as free news from the Associated Press and Reuters, have made newspapers vulnerable and seen many of them shut down.
We might have thought television was disruption-proof, but YouTube, and Hulu and Netflix streaming services, have killed the TV advertising marketplace, which is having a dramatic effect on the state of television. And the DVR and that lovely 30-second skip button on TV remotes has driven advertisers crazy for the last 15+ years.
But construction! I thought construction was always going to be a solid business to be in. Sure, there are economic disruptions, like the 2008 market crash. But there is always a need for people to swing hammers and put up walls and roofs. There may be small evolutions in home building technology, like SIPs (structural insulated panels) or nail guns instead of hammers. But the principles (and principals) were always the same: a crew of builders putting up four walls and a roof, with doors, windows, and plumbing.
And yet, a startup in San Francisco and an architecture firm in The Netherlands is proving that a single machine can build a small house in a matter of hours, not months. Apis Cor built a tiny concrete house in Russia in 24 hours, while Dutch architectural firm Van Wijnen is preparing to build ” target=”_blank”>five small houses for approximately $10,000 apiece just outside of Eindhoven.
(But humans are still faster at the moment. For you John Henry fans, in 2002, a team of humans built a house for Habitat for Humanity in Alabama in 3 hours, 44 minutes, and 59 seconds, setting a world record for fastest house ever built.)
But the 3D printed houses have a few advantages that human built houses don’t: for one thing, they’re resource efficient. Since they’re printed completely with concrete, it’s possible to know exactly how much concrete is needed, which means there’s little to no waste product left over. That also reduces the energy needed to produce the house.
They also fill up a worker shortage. There is a shortage of bricklayers in The Netherlands, so a 3D-printed house could go a long way in alleviating that problem. While you might think they could just hire more bricklayers, it’s not like nobody hasn’t thought of it — there just aren’t any. If they can’t find bricklayers, then either the price of brick houses go up, fewer houses get built with brick, and/or the time to build them increases.
At this point, at least in Eindhoven, they’re printing pieces offsite and transporting them to their building location, sort of like modular sectional houses, which are built in halves and are trucked to their final destination and lifted by crane into place.
And this is only the beginning. While the initial houses are fairly small, I can imagine there’s going to be a possibility of building 1,200 – 1,500 square foot one floor houses. Also, I don’t know how they’re accounting for things like electrical boxes and cabling, or how they would build a second floor, but you can bet the designers and 3D printing experts are working on that right now.
Home building is not the same as normal manufacturing, like I’ve spent my career managing, but the principles and the disruptions by 3D printing are the same. I’m seeing instance after instance where manufacturers are using 3D printing to build parts with steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, high-density plastic, and even human tissue to create hearts and treat arthritis (another Dutch venture).
This means the future of manufacturing isn’t just fabricating and assembling products. It’s being able to service these new machines and troubleshoot problems as they arise. It means technical training and education will be critical if you want a job, which means going to college and earning technical degrees, so you can troubleshoot and program the machines. It means embracing the future, because the present day model is about to be disrupted in a major way.
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Photo credit: 3DPrinthuset (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)