Throughout history, the construction industry has largely remained unchanged, with most structures still requiring workers to add layers of bricks or other building materials atop each other. However, the conventional approach is becoming outdated in the modern age, as it heavily relies on individual skill, produces large amounts of waste and noise, and yields low productivity.
Moving into the territory is 3D printing, which promises to build houses faster, cheaper, and more accurately. With benefits like these, it’s no wonder that 3D printing construction is gaining momentum. To put things in perspective, in 2016, the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates declared that by 2030, a quarter of all the buildings in Dubai would be 3D printed.
With 3D printed buildings on the rise, one begins to wonder, who is building these structures? That’s what this article attempts to address, but the answer isn’t so simple…
Skeptics still doubt the viability of 3D printed houses. 3D printing construction companies receive a lot of heat, as engineers, project developers, and clients try to wrap their heads around this new phenomenon. After all, it’s still a relatively new technology.
So far, there are no proper standards around the methods and materials used. In addition, local building codes have no provision for 3D printed homes, which means the technology is still inapplicable in some areas.
Most of the companies involved in 3D printing houses are still in the early stages of manufacturing their machines. Nevertheless, some are organizing demonstrations and allowing potential clients to view their 3D printed homes. A company like Winsun, for example, is always inviting clients to tour its facilities and has even made collaborations with architects to educate them on how to incorporate 3D printed designs into their work.
We went out on a small investigative mission to uncover companies making great strides in 3D printing construction. The five listed below were picked based on their resilience and positive track record. They seem more committed, and some of them have already been contracted to 3D print houses in various places around the world.
As we’ve mentioned, most of these companies are still testing their equipment, but they’re the most credible companies that you could contract to 3D print your house.
Apis Cor is the first company to create specialized equipment with the capability of printing an entire building (walls and structures) on site. Their mission is to develop fully-autonomous equipment that can print buildings on Earth and beyond.
Their 3D printing solution enables the printing of an entire house in any location within 24 hours. The solution features a mobile 3D printer, which requires only 30 minutes to set up, and a “mobile automated mix and supply unit”. The Apis Cor 3D printer covers a total area of 132 m² and creates walls layer-by-layer using the mixed concrete. Its stabilization system enables it to be installed on almost any surface with less than 10 cm of elevation difference. (Most other printers require a flat and level concrete base.)
In 2017, Apis Cor made the headlines when they built a full-scale house in just 24 hours. The 3D printed house was built in Russia, and to adapt to the weather conditions, Apis Cor used “dry insulating material on one part of the house and polyurethane filler composition on the other.”
In early 2019, Apis Cor announced that it would be partnering with Gerdau to 3D print houses in the USA. This partnership may accelerate the application of Apis Cor’s 3D construction technology in the USA and South America.
Gerdau previously supported Apis Cor in the “3D Printed Habitat Challenge”, organized by NASA. The aim was to promote the evolution of new tech that could additively manufacture a habitat using local materials. Apis Cor and SEArch + Team won first place in Construction Level 1 and fourth place in Virtual Design Level 1.
Currently, Apis Cor is working to make their equipment as autonomous as possible since this is the best way to quickly scale the technology around the world. Apis Cor believes that, once their technology is optimized, they can begin to solve the affordable housing problem that is crippling many regions.
XtreeE was founded in late 2015 to pioneer industrial-scale additive manufacturing with concrete. And before that, it was a university project.
Focused on large-scale additive manufacturing, the company operates via two services: renting its large-scale printing systems or assisting customers with collaborative design and large-scale prototype manufacturing. Between 2017 and 2018, for example, XtreeE worked with Berlin’s Studio 7.5 to come up with a series of 3D printed concrete benches for an urban furniture collection. The company exploited the woven pattern (for both its structural performance and aesthetic value) and made the seats using minimum concrete.
Currently, XtreeE uses a giant robotic arm for printing, which can create objects 3 m high and 5 m long without being repositioned. Meanwhile, their specially developed concrete only takes 20 hours to cure and achieves a compressive strength of over 80 MPa.
With this constructive combination, the company’s goal is to provide a generally well-performing system for the construction sector. The new system should individualize solutions, improve safety, and reduce the impact on the environment. In fact, XtreeE is expected to demonstrate the C02 emission-reducing capabilities in a project where five social houses are to be built in Reims (France). The homes will combine 3D concrete printing with off-site construction. The construction is expected to commence in early 2020.
The French start-up is also working on setting up production units worldwide to have a network of more than 50 printers by 2025. They’ve already set up a pilot production plant in Paris and are now building another in Dubai, which will be operated by Concreative. The company is also exploring the possibility of opening two more production units in Asia.
By 2020, XtreeE expects to launch the “XtreeE Printing as a Service”. This will be a digital platform that connects customers to a community of engineers, product designers, architects, and XtreeE printing technology.
By harnessing the ability of the 3D printing technology to create structures that are optimized and use concrete only where and when it is needed, XtreeE aims to reduce concrete consumption by up to 70%.
CyBe Construction is a Dutch company aiming to revolutionize concrete 3D printing. They were selected to 3D print houses in the UAE, in line with the Sheikh’s aforementioned 3D printing plan.
The company is responsible for two printers – the CyBe R 3Dp and the CyBe RC 3Dp – and their in-house Mortar material. The printers, with a 200-mm/s printing speed, are capable of printing large structures in only 20 minutes but require two hands-on operators.
The RC is a mobile printer, with rubber tracks that allow it to roam freely around a construction site. According to CyBe, this printer has various other applications like abutments, floors, walls, formworks, and sewer pits. The first 3D printed house in the UAE should be ready by the third quarter of 2019.
Prior to the UAE project, CyBe completed another project in Dubai, where it was tasked with 3D printing a 168-square-meter drone R&D lab. The laboratory was printed onsite in three weeks using the mobile 3D printing machine.
Established in 2013, CyBe has been around for a while and has a decent track record. Here are some notable projects:
An ambitious company, CyBe Construction has even 3D printed an artificial reef in France. The human-made underwater structure is used to promote marine life, control erosion, improve surfing, block the usage of trawling nets, and block ship passage.
World Advanced Saving Project, or WASP, sells printers and uses the revenue to invest in research and development of integrated projects that could revolutionize production. In fact, all of the projects realized so far are 100% self-financed.
WASP has arguably developed the largest concrete 3D printer currently on the market. The said printer, named Big Delta, is 12 m in height and 7 m wide, with adjustable arms that can extend up to 6 m. WASP’s end goal is to use the Big Delta to extrude straw and earth to produce “zero-mile” homes, built using naturally-sourced materials.
An important milestone for WASP was the Gaia project. Apart from soil used to produce the main structure, the 30-square-meter house used natural waste materials from rice production, as was presented in the “A call to save the world” conference.
Gaia is an eco-sustainable house designed and built using the Crane WASP, a modular 3D printer that can create homes in various formats and sizes. The house was printed on-site in Massa Lombardo and is the result of 7 years of research in the field of architecture and 3D printing. Its purpose is to demonstrate the potential of 3D printing in architecture.
Winsun is a pioneer in 3D printing, having long existed in the discussion around 3D printed buildings. It started as a material supplier until making headlines in 2014 for printing ten houses in one day. Since then, Winsun has involved itself in several interesting projects that have earned it media attention. One such project was the printing of a stylish office in Dubai back in 2016. In 2017, Winsun used recycled material to 3D print a sustainable bus stop in China, and the company now claims that a standard house can be built in a day for $4,800.
Winsun is well aware of the skepticism facing 3D printing in construction, and the company is making considerable investments in creating conspicuous complex prototypes. To prove the viability of 3D printing for high-rise construction, Winsun plans to build a 100-m-high demonstration building with 200,000 square meters of floor space near Shanghai.
Winsun has several prototypes that customers can visit outside its main factory, including a six-story apartment building. To date, they’ve sold more than 100 houses.
Their printer uses a layer-by-layer process that is complemented by sand, cement, and fibers, which give the walls sufficient strength. Yet, their printer doesn’t work on-site; they develop the walls in their factory, later transporting them to the site.
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The company continues to develop 3D printing technologies and now owns 151 patents. They’re even expected to set up a research and development team that will engage in developing 3D printing technologies to be used in constructing Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Transport system.
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