Sustainability of 3D Printing in Infrastructure Development

Thato T. Wilson, Paul T. Mativenga, Annlizé L. Marnewick

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


The construction industry has an interest in moving away from the traditional ways of constructing infrastructure to 3D printing. The assumption is that 3D printing could accelerate the build time and lead to savings in the cost of labour and materials. This will also bring manufacturing approaches and systems to the construction of homes. Worldwide, there is an ever-growing backlog of cost-effective and durable homes. A few case studies of 3D-printed infrastructure have been developed and implemented around the world. The technology benefits of adopting 3D printing for infrastructure are linked to design freedom, the rapid rate of building construction, economic impact and assumed environmental benefits. The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) urges the construction industry to build sustainable infrastructure and services to address difficulties such as high energy consumption, solid waste creation, water resource depletion, and greenhouse gas emissions. On a world scale, there is an urgent need for more sustainable urban housing. The environmental performance of affordable housing has not been established or optimised. This study evaluated the case studies of 3D-printed houses worldwide, comparing designs, build times, cost, materials and reported environmental benefits. Although many claim that structures are sustainable, there is limited assessment of the life cycle environmental impact of 3D-printed buildings. Few papers have explored the life cycle impacts. The limited work suggests that traditional buildings have a significantly higher cradle-to-grave environmental burden compared to 3D-printed homes when considering human health, environmental quality and global warming. The benefits are driven by significantly reduced material requirements enabled by alternative designs. More comprehensive studies are required to assess and maximize the life cycle benefits of 3D-printed homes for affordable housing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-200
Number of pages6
JournalProcedia CIRP
Early online date12 Jan 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Jan 2024
Event56th CIRP International Conference on Manufacturing Systems, CIRP CMS 2023 - Cape Town, South Africa
Duration: 24 Oct 202326 Oct 2023


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