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Posted: 9th March
By: rlf

Are 3D-printed homes the future of property?

We’re living in a world where 3D printing can create anything, from prosthetic limbs to edible biscuits. There are even 3D photos that enable blind people to ‘touch’ their memories. What about property?

But a Chinese construction company has shown the potential of the technology for the construction sector by creating a 3D-printed five-storey apartment building and a 1,100 square metre (11,840 square foot) villa, complete with decorative elements, in an industrial park in China’s Jiangsu province.

It took the company, WinSun a day to print one level of the building and another five to put it together, using a 150-meter 3D printer.

They used recycled building waste for the materials or ‘ink,’ which also contained glass fibre, steel, cement and special additives. The printer secreted layers of construction material on top of each other to create densely packed building blocks.

The printer fabricated the parts in large pieces at WinSun’s facility, and the structure was assembled on-site, complete with steel reinforcements and insulation, in order to comply with official building standards. In all, the villa cost around $161,000 to build.

WinSun claims that their technology can save up to 60% of the materials typically needed to construct a home, and that a property can be printed in a time span that equates to just 30% of that of traditional construction. In total, 80% less labour is needed, potentially allowing for more affordable construction and less risk of injury to contractors.

The overall construction of a 3D-printed building is highly wind resistant and holds up well against foundational disruption, such as earthquakes.

Benefits of 3D Printing

On a purely aesthetic level, 3D printing holds great potential for the construction industry. It offers all the possibilities of sculpted concrete, without the bulky and expensive formwork. Building sites of the future could be far less noisy, more clean and easier on the eye. However, the more important advantage of 3D printing, that could spur its acceptance as a viable means of construction, is its supposed sustainability. The construction industry produces a large amount of carbon emissions, but with 3D printing, waste material can be recycled.

Furthermore, 3D printing will improve the design stage of construction. Modellers can “print” a mock-up of a building, making it easy for construction companies and their customers to experiment and tinker with design ideas. These mock-ups could also help construction companies identify flaws and pain points before construction even begins—a potential avenue to prevent project delays.