3D printing adds a new dimension in the design and building sectors

3D printing technology will make some jobs in construction obsolete but will create others. Teacher Antonio Ianni tells Ellie O’Byrne it is the future but Ireland is lagging behind.

IT seems like you can’t open a newspaper without reading about the latest 3D printing miracle; from bio-printed human organs to parts for jet engines to Katy Perry’s Superbowl shark, the boundaries of the technology are constantly shifting.

Up-skilling is the key in the fast-paced world of 3D printing. Construction manager Antonio Ianni teaches 3D printing in St John’s College of Further Education, in Cork City. The Italian says that Ireland has lagged behind in adopting the technology.

“In London, for €450 you can get your body scanned and they 3D-print you. Milan has over 80 places where you can go with an idea and they’ll 3D-print it for you,” he says.

“In Ireland, we’re a little bit behind. It’s one of those technologies that people are almost a little scared of. But it’s getting more normal now; in Dublin, there are a few places where you can get things printed,” Ianni says.

Ianni teaches a FETAC level 5 night class in 3D printing and design; the course started last September. St John’s bought a 3D printer, which prints a recyclable thermoplastic material. “It took a while to convince the management of the college,” he says. “Public organisations are not always flexible with new ideas, but Principal Murphy trusted me and we got our 3D printer.”

Read More: A whole new dimension as manufacturing goes 3D

With a background in commercial construction, Ianni first became interested in 3D in 2006, when he saw an architect’s model with a 3D-printed landscape. Now, he prints architects’ models.

But it’s a leap from an architect’s model to a house: Chinese company, WinSun, 3D-printed a five-storey apartment block in January. Printed using a gargantuan, 40-metre-long proprietary printer, the prefabricated panels are made with a quick-drying cement.

“If there’s a housing shortage for any reason, if there’s a flood or disaster, they can quickly print more homes. It’s fabulous,” Ianni says. “It takes years to train a bricklayer and two weeks to train someone in a 3D-printing task.”

There are many advantages to 3D-print architecture, such as increased on-site safety for workers and, of course, speed of construction; last March, WinSun announced that it had 3D-printed 10 houses — admittedly a pretty basic design — in just 24 hours.

The technology is labour-saving, cutting man-hours, and therefore costs, drastically. This is potentially devastating to employment in construction. Ianni says the workforce needs to adapt. “This is nothing new,” he says.

“Jacque Fresco published books 60 years ago, where he talked about automation. You’re just bringing a different workforce into play. People work in IT systems, not on the land anymore. There will be some jobs that will go, but new ones will be created.”

Ianni has learned to be adaptable with his skills: “With the economic downturn, I redesigned myself and went into teaching,” he says.

3D printing adds a new dimension in the design and building sectors

The speed of advances in 3D printing make a challenging subject to teach, but the focus on the St John’s course is on practical, job-oriented skills.

“It’s one of those courses that is very exciting to teach,” Ianni says. “For anyone interested in design, it’s really good, because you can see your idea; it’s not just in your mind! You see the final product. That makes my students very satisfied.”

Once the basics have been mastered, the possibilities for adapting your skillset are endless, and as the technology becomes cheaper and more widely adopted, the opportunities for employment will also proliferate, Ianni says: “I’ve worked with doctors, engineers…once you have a design background, you can adapt your skill.”

St John’s College is just one of many academic institutes, community groups and organisations taking part in Cork Lifelong Learning Festival 2015 this week.

With 500 events, the festival celebrates the fun of learning, no matter what your stage of life. From Tango classes to historical walks to workshops on internet safety, there’s a huge range of free events citywide all week.

Thanks to the festival, the first of its kind in Ireland, Cork has been chosen by UNESCO as one of three European cities that are case studies for its Global Network of Learning Cities. Limerick followed suit in 2010, with an annual Lifelong Learning Festival of its own, which now runs the same week as the Cork festival.

Ianni will participate in the programme today,with a live demonstration of 3D printing and scanning techniques. He’s happy to take part “just for fun and because it’s something I’m excited by,” he says. “Skill-sharing reflects my philosophy.”

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