Will the 3D printer revolutionize the construction industry?
While in other industries it is increasingly common for parts or products to come out of a 3D printer, the construction industry is still lagging behind in this area. But that is about to change. For example, in 2017 the Dutch town of Gemert in Brabant had the world premiere with a 3D printed cycle bridge. Then in 2019, the first commercial meeting center in Europe (the Vergaderfabriek) was also produced by a 3D printer in Teuge, in the Dutch province of Gelderland. Developments in this technology are not to be outdone either.
For example, last week we wrote that the Dutch city of Nijmegen will 3D print the longest cycle bridge in the world. And in nearby Eindhoven, the first 3D printed concrete house now has tenants. Is building with 3D printers a hype that’s going to explode? Or will we see this more often? Is this going to be the future?
If it were up to Theo Salet, professor of concrete structures at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU / e, and affiliated to the Milestone project responsible for the printout), it will certainly be the case. “We are not only digitizing the design this way, but also the construction itself. This will lead to more durable housing as you need less material. We know that the CO2 emissions from concrete are relatively high. If the printing technology develops further, I can see the walls getting thinner and saving even more money. In addition, as an architect you have a lot more freedom. This is because you can print concrete in all kinds of shapes. “
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The 3D printed concrete has even more advantages, continues the professor. The printer does the heavy lifting so construction workers have less work to do. In addition, the construction itself is faster because the pre-printed concrete blocks only need to be assembled. Salet: “You can also print all kinds of features on the wall. For example, cuts to water pipes and electricity. But also insulating materials, or a layer to improve acoustics. “
All these integral functions and other facets of 3D printing are studied by Salet in the 3D concrete printing research group. This is the same group that is collaborating on the Milestone project. So now the first house in this project is complete. The project partners (TU / e, Van Wijnen, Saint-Gobain Weber Beamix, Vesteda, municipality of Eindhoven and Witteveen + Bos) expect the delivery of the last four houses to be done more quickly. Erwin Kersten, Manager South at Van Wijnen, explains: “We build a house from different components, which has never been done before. In fact, you are still working on prototypes and improving them. It takes time to adapt the printing process as the house has to meet the strict building requirements in the Netherlands.
Salet adds: “It taught us even more. We know a lot more about what works and what doesn’t. We will also be making some additional adjustments to speed up the process. We don’t just learn a lot. There are still four houses to go. The fact that we can immediately use this knowledge to further develop the project is a gift to me. Not only should everything go faster, but the other houses are also supposed to have several floors or an extra floor. This is another step in the development of this technology. “
Print on site
At present, the separate parts are printed in the specially equipped 3D printing room (also a first in 2019). As soon as the walls are hardened, they are transported to the site by truck. Ultimately, the goal is also to print on location, as CEO Bas Huysmans says. “It’s not sustainable to 3D print in a big factory and then load everything onto trucks. Over time, everything will be printed on site. I can already see it: a truck delivers the printer. Then an architect can plug in his USB key which has the building design so to speak. The printer then does the job, so when they come back the next day, the second floor is finished. Although we haven’t gotten that far with the second and third houses yet. But we can still dream.
Unlike the Eindhoven Milestone project, the construction of the Vergaderfabriek in Teuge involved on-site printing, explains Hugo Jager of Revealing. He worked with the Vergaderfabriek to digitize things. “This print was made by Berry Hendriks of CyBe Construction. It is important that the concrete hardens under the right conditions after printing. These conditions must be stable. To do this, a large tent was erected around the Teuge site.
Prefab vs. print on site
Personally, he believes that in the future this method will be used mainly for unique projects. the prefabricated method, whereby you manufacture the parts in a factory, is more suited to scalable projects. To illustrate this point, Jager quotes a 3D printing project in Den Helder in the north of the Netherlands. Here, 154 apartment buildings will receive new facades and balconies directly from a 3D printer. Construction company Bruil has set up a 3D printing plant in Veenendaal for this purpose.
“3D printing can have its advantages. You should always take into account the construction and the load capacity. Traditional concrete has much more mass, while imprinted concrete is hollow on the inside. You easily save around 40-50% in materials, not only in terms of CO2 emissions, but also in weight. In addition, it is very difficult to transform traditional concrete into unique shapes. Especially if you only use a mold once, it is very expensive. A 3D printer is much more suitable for this purpose and you don’t need a mold. But the technology is still in its infancy. There is a lot of research and experimentation going on. In this regard, scaling up and delivering consistent quality is often a challenge. “
Will the house become cheaper?
Jager says it’s no surprise that the adoption of new technologies in the construction industry is slow to take off. “The construction and real estate sectors are very fragmented with all the different municipalities, hundreds of builders and other parties to contend with. It is therefore not surprising that the adoption of innovation does not happen very quickly. Another factor is that there is sufficient demand and the market is ready to pay for housing. Therefore, businesses do not yet see the need for digitization. But I’m curious what will happen if several large construction companies start building houses directly from factories. What consequences will this have? Will houses get cheaper? Perhaps other manufacturers will also join this industrialization process in the event of price pressure. “