As it stands, 3D printing hasn't yet reached a point where it replaces many facets of our daily lives. While you might find more use for it around your home if you work with many do-it-yourself projects, many of its most interesting potential advances seem to rest in the land of big business and industry. In a strange way, those advances might wrap back around to the private home in the most literal way possible.
The shifting scope of business production
The concept of augmenting a business through 3D printing isn't an outlandish new suggestion. In fact, it's already seen some level of integration in the mass production of consumer products. Such is the case with Adidas' plan to automate the production of shoe soles in a way that no longer calls for sweatshop assembly an ocean away, cutting down on design and shipping time by an exponential factor. If this is where your mind veers when pondering on the future of big business, you really can't be blamed. It's the most obvious train of thought and currently one of the most practical ways to put a new technology to use.
Along comes the idea of 3D printing a home and suddenly everything gets turned upside-down. However, it also introduces a new series of questions and potential issues to a business sector which likely never considered itself replaceable. Architecture and construction are already seeing a boom of printed construction trends that could very well move the focus of traditional home building from months with experienced crews to operations that complete over the course of a few days.
The focus of most of the research into the marketplace disruption with regards to the private manufacture of products and materials has generally revolved around the micro scale. Likewise, the medical industry's interest in the custom fabrication of prosthesis and potentially living tissue in the future are also well documented. Much less so are the disruptions that come with a details-oriented business being overturned by a process that was once considered crude and imperfect.
Material restrictions and the future of scale
Private companies are already demonstrating portable 3D printers capable of projects the size of a small house, which removes one of the most common barriers to the potential usefulness of printing structures. In the past, this process remained mostly constrained to the production of individual segments of a larger structure which would then be transported to another site to be fitted together. Recent improvements in printer designs have changed that, making it possible to print a small house, lift out the printer and then add a roof and fixtures within a day's time.
The technology hasn't reached the point where a fabricated log cabin can be extruded from a machine yet. This does buy time while innovations in the field continue to be made at a fairly steady rate. But it seems to be just a matter of time before a clever solution arrives. Even metal printing is quickly becoming reality. This may open the door to a world where buildings with concrete and metal foundations and frames are erected in a time allotment once thought impossible.
If anything it seems to be pushing the boundaries of what traditional architecture and construction could be capable of. This is exemplified by Softkill Design's Protohouse, a project conceived back in 2012 designed to show just how a home could be created outside of the usual realm of a rigid structure with an angular frame. They've done this by creating something akin to the internal structure of an ant's nest. The project has gone on to see revisions as technology improves and design goals change, but the end result is the same: A building that looks like something carved out of H. R. Giger's sketchbook could someday jut out of a hill in your neighborhood.
The inevitable march of time
The future of construction isn't in peril for quite a few years, given the current pace of 3D printing developments. It's just another small piece of the larger puzzle that is automation and what it means for the future, which may provide new realms and challenges for the world of architecture for both its production and design. Traditional architects may no longer find themselves on familiar ground when making homes. Especially once unconventional shapes and outlandish forms suddenly become available to the mainstream world rather than eccentric millionaires.
It may be a slow burn sort of development, but it's bound to be an interesting one.