For Sundt Construction’s 125th anniversary, the company developed a coffee table book that showcased 125 different clients and projects. However, the contractor took it one step further by packaging the book in a 3D jacket that depicts a fictional “Sundt City,” that has real replicas of existing buildings around the Valley. To accomplish this, the company bought a 3D printer. However, the book jacket was just a gateway into additional applications of 3D printing in commercial real estate.

“We really wanted to learn the commercial aspects of 3D printing, and this struck us as a low cost, low risk way to play with a new technology,” said Jeff Perelman, Sundt senior vice president and chief growth and strategy officer.

“In construction, you can’t afford to build one bad building, so you don’t want to try a technology until it works,” Perelman said. “This gave us a real chance to learn on a simple model. Internally, just doing something as simple as a book cover let us master what you have to do for 3D design so it can be printed by the printer.”

Sundt learned a lot from its experience printing the jacket covers. When printing the bridge arches, the engineers assigned to master the printer learned that the arches couldn’t be printed the way they look. Rather, they had to be produced at an angle because the printer cannot drop material to print if there is no supporting body. Depending on the angle you set a structure, it might be physically impossible to print.

Later this year, Sundt plans to use the printer for prototypes of projects. The aim is to make visualizing the final product easier. The industry currently uses building information modeling (BIM), a process that generates digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of buildings, said Steven Ayer, a professor at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.  Engineers can work in cyberspace and see how a complicated structure lays out, Perelman said, but building owners often cannot and 3D printing holds value there.

Sundt’s interest in 3D printing is to find ways to print custom components, Perelman said. The construction industry is a unique manufacturer because everything is a one-off and no one wants the same building as what is next door. This is where 3D printing has a lot of value, Perlman said.

Currently, modularization and prefabrication methods are used in the construction industry, but they involve repetition, Ayer said.

“3D printing offers an interesting ability to not have that consistency,” he says.

“The concept of having a manufacturing tool where you can build customized parts or components to fit a unique building has unlimited potential for our industry,” Perelman said.