Can You Really 3D Print a House for $ 10,000?
3D printing company in the United States says it can build a house in half the time of building a conventional equivalent – incurring only 10% of the cost of labor and 10% of waste . One of his rivals says he can print a house for a shade over $ 10,000 (£ 7,100). Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
One person who should know the answer is Henrik Lund-Nielsen. He is the founder and managing director of Copenhagen-based Cobod, one of the world’s best-known home printers. His verdict? “The numbers you see are usually bullshit.”
First, the cost of the houses in the headlines is just that of printing the concrete walls, he says. None of the other building elements – from the windows to the wiring – are included in the price.
Second, there is a lack of clarity on what is actually printable. A pretty picture of a finished house suggests that the whole edifice came out of a nozzle. In fact, only its walls are printed. The rest of the building is carried out using more conventional methods.
And third, the speeds are often overestimated. Lund-Nielsen’s research suggests that a high-profile print house that took “a day to build” had been under construction for five months.
“The motivation is to grab the attention of investors,” he says. “There is a 3D project in China that has attracted a lot of publicity. If the company behind had told the truth, they would have gotten 10% of the coverage. “
Marketing tactics seem to be working, however. “How many 3D printed buildings in the world do you think there are?” Lund-Nielsen asks. “There are less than 50 of them, but they are probably the most famous buildings of all time.”
Despite this, when you look through the hype, there are still some obvious benefits to be gained from using 3D printing. Coming back to the speed factor, the printer uses nozzles on the robot arms to extrude thick concrete – usually a mixture of cement, sand, and additives that speed up the setting process – in layers. This method is really fast. For example, the New York company SQ4D can make the walls of a 175m2 home in 48 hours of printing spread over eight days. This operation requires three people and the materials cost $ 6,000, numbers difficult to sort out.
Then there is the design flexibility: printers can produce any shape. Paolo Guglielmini is president of the manufacturing intelligence division at Hexagon, a developer of simulation software used by in-house printers such as Mighty Buildings. He says printing offers “a unique flexibility because there is a more direct link between digital design and production. You print ideas. ”
Guglielmini goes on to extol the benefits of simulation: “Once the design, material and process have been perfected at this point, problems such as warping, delamination and residual stresses will all have been virtually eliminated by the process. printing from home, which means there is no need to waste time and money printing a warped and out of specification four-ton prototype. “
The range of usable building materials is also expanding, offering more flexibility. Lightweight steel, for example, can be printed on site or at the factory.
Jesus Jimenez is a director at White Red Architects, which was involved in a 93-unit project in Kent that uses steel recycled from cars. “You build a skeleton from the parts, like a massive jigsaw,” he says, noting that the speed of the printing process lowers labor costs.
Each piece can be custom printed, which is difficult to do with traditional manufacturing methods. This makes it possible to upgrade the components of existing buildings with low gauge printed steel. Jimenez says, “The tenants of a building that we’re adding units to don’t even have to move.”
The more material in a build that can be printed, the more profitable this project is. Buildings that don’t require a lot of wiring, plumbing, tiling, and other labor-intensive tasks are particularly suitable. That’s why Cobod has looked into wind turbine and warehouse production, says Lund-Nielsen, who believes the labor costs associated with its industry sector will inevitably increase.
“Try to get a young Englishman to work in construction,” he says. “They don’t want to, but they might want a job where they control a 3D robot with an iPad.”
Printing giant Ricoh believes the technology can add real value to humanitarian aid efforts. Richard Minifie, a senior engineer at the company, sees it as a disaster relief solution in remote locations or a way to alleviate the problems caused by overcrowding in developing countries, rather than a replacement for housing. standard.
“There is a clear potential for this in countries that lack a skilled workforce or where it is difficult to organize a workplace,” he says. “Madagascar’s first print school is expected to open this year, for example.”
In the future, robots will be able to perform tasks such as plastering and running cables. We can even see androids with superhuman strength working on the spot. Boston Dynamics has already built Atlas, a skillful four-arm robot capable of piercing concrete panels.
So in-house 3D printing is here, and while the public relations campaign surrounding it should be taken with more than a pinch of salt, it offers significant efficiency savings. For example, California-based Mighty Buildings is offering to install a fully furnished one-bed house for $ 221,750 (£ 157,250). No hype – it’s ready to order today.
Even Lund-Nielsen – who estimates that “between 95% and 98% of claims published by the industry are misleading” – believes that technology is set to change the world. Coming from the arch-skeptic, that’s quite something.