The View From Here
by Ric Jackson
October 1st, 2018

The Future is Coming Faster Than Expected

You can’t open a trade magazine or skim your emails without finding some report or article on the skilled labor shortage we’re experiencing in the construction industry. There’s very little good news out there that the situation will improve in the near term, so we must ask ourselves: what now? Ric Jackson

 Back in 2015, I attended a workshop at Oak Ridge National Laboratory on the topic of 3D printing in industrial applications and had an eye-opening experience having witnessed technology that would print an entire house later that year. I remember being amazed by the capabilities to print highly insulated materials and panels.

At that time, 3D printing had been around for a couple of decades – if not more. Quanex had already been using it to design parts that would later be made with extrusion dies. Costs were already coming down for the technology and there was a lot of promise.

Fast forward three years to the present as we’re experiencing a perfect storm in many areas of the country – rising construction costs, skilled labor shortages and housing shortages – that is forcing construction companies to get creative. And fast. It might seem like a grim situation, but there is a silver lining: progress. And it’s coming faster than expected.

We’re being forced to look for low-cost, low-labor alternatives to traditional construction to keep up with demands. And 3D printing is among them. Today, commercial 3D printers can be purchased for as little as $2,000 and the materials they can print with are also more advanced to the point airplane parts and costly one-off prototype parts can be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of machining them.

The View from Here is that we have hit a crossroad where our circumstances are pushing technologies like factory prefabricated building materials and 3D printing will be a necessity to keep up with construction demands. And, as an added bonus, there is virtually zero waste when 3D printing components.

This will likely be the way of the world one day – but for now, it’s interesting to watch the capability grow right in front of us. I expect we’ll see new and creative ways to use 3D printing and other advanced techniques to our advantage in the not-so-far-off future as means to overcome the labor shortage.

What’s your View? Email me directly at eric.jackson@quanex.com.

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