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April 2017

3D printed houses may offer affordable option

Developers of 3D printed houses believe these structures can revolutionize the production of "affordable, smart and sustainable housing." Along with houses, the innovative tool has been used for building offices, pavilions and other large-scale structures using a variety of materials ranging from plastics and metals to ceramics and cement.

Joining companies in China, Russia, Germany and the Netherlands in that endeavor is a San Francisco startup. Construction company Sunconomy has teamed with Apis Cor of Russia, which claims to be the first company to develop a mobile construction 3D concrete printer that is capable of printing entire buildings completely on site. 

Builders cite several benefits of 3D printed structures, with one major advantage being the potential for environmentally friendly projects. The ability to re-use discarded plastic (found in oceans and waste dumps) and to recycle concrete and other materials is also noteworthy.

Other advantages listed by proponents are:

  • Use in building inexpensive 3D printed houses in developing countries.
  • Enables short construction timelines, which could be especially useful following natural disasters that destroy homes.
  • Has the ability to produce shapes that are not possible or prohibitively expensive with conventional methods.
  • "Otherworldly potential."  NASA has plans to use 3D printing for colonies on Mars and the European Space Agency recently enlisted an architect to design a moon research base that would be 3D printed from lunar soil.

Sunconomy, the company with a mobile printer, notes additional features of its methods:

  • Affordability, with less waste
  • Super strong housing (can resist winds of up to 220 MPH)
  • Net Zero energy consumption (meaning the amount of energy used is equal to amount produced)
  • Water through rain water catchment
  • The use of natural materials
  • Compatibility with IoT (Internet of Things) devices
  • Lower insurance costs with the use of materials that lower risk of major hazards such as fire or roof damage

3-D Printed HousesApis Cor recently showcased a 400 sq. ft. home it constructed in 24 hours with $10,134 worth of materials. Rather than print sections of a house in a factory and assemble onsite, Apis used its portable printer. The process achieved labor savings (it only takes two people to operate the machine and do minor engineering such as adding supports to the walls), with no material waste and much simpler logistics and engineering.

Another company, WinSun Decoration Design Engineering in China, constructed a set of 10 single story 3D printed homes in under 24 hours by printing prefabricated panels that fit together on site. It estimated each house cost just $5,000 to build, exclusive of plumbing, electrical wiring and insulation. WinSun used a cement-based mixture containing construction waste and glass fiber. The printer was developed over 12 years. 

All3DP, a Munich-based online company and publisher of a leading 3D printing magazine, has compiled a list of the 30 greatest 3D printed houses and structures in the world. Click to view.

Other companies have been experimenting with plans to 3D print entire buildings are Dus Architects and Ultimaker in the Netherlands.