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3D Construction Printing: Real Option(s)!

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on 15 days ago

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3D printed construction became a tangible and realised option in the year gone by, i.e. 2018, with the first ever 3D printed home being occupied in August 2018 in Nantes, France. This family of 5 moving from their crowded apartment to a detached home of 1700 sq feet of their own marked, not just their personal milestone, but a historical one for the construction technology world! From then (and even before) to the year-end, many experiments have been conducted and alternatives explored in 3D printed construction, leaving the world with several options in wall building.

Basic Additive Manufacturing

This is the most tried and tested basic method of construction using 3D printing technology, also used in the Nantes house, which works similarly to printing out any other objects. Layer upon layer of material is piled up vertically by the 3D printer using nozzles and robotic arms that are guided by translating a well calibrated digital model which is fed to the machine. As the printing follows a trajectory defined by dividing the model into slices, the mineral infused fluid material ejected into shape by the nozzle sets into concrete almost instantly. This reduces the time (33 hours for the Nantes house) as well as cost of construction as compared to conventional building techniques. On the downside can be counted the factor of large clear spaces required for the printer to stand, move and work, despite having a footprint small enough to be easily transported. Also, this particular technology doesn’t give very smooth surfaces and the plan is not at all flexible once built/ printed out.

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Echoviren

The very nascent experiments to build using 3D printing include a precious project called Echoviren that attracted special attention back in 2013. Architects Smith/ Allen were the designers of a small den-like shelter with porous walls as responsive to its surroundings of 150 acres of Redwood forest. The biggest 3D printed architectural installation at the time at 10 x 10 x 8 feet, it looked like a translucent white oculus that drew people by its simultaneous resemblance and contrast to its surroundings. Parametric architectural design and a range of 7 3D printers printed the 200 component parts on site and assembled this structure over a period of two months! 

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Walls Assembled From 3D Printed Components

This technology pioneered in part by the same Smith/ Allen dates back much earlier to 2014 when it was first displayed publicly at a Californian inventions festival under the brand name of Endograft. A curvaceous undulating wall was installed through a space using 222 prefabricated components made of polymers, effectively offering a beautiful and flexible 3D printed solution for partitions and internal walls of any kind. Since the 3D printing of components happened off-site, the on-site assembling became a smooth process, unrestrained by space and other factors. While transportation and assembly were non-issues, the time taken then was definitely longer at 6 to 12 hours per piece and 38 days for the entire wall’s components! But hey, it would take way lesser time today and the chance to play around with the wall shapes is a definite bonus!

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Cut to the present when Sebastian Misiurek and Arianna Lebed, founders of Simplus Design, have designed Supermod – a module based incremental partition wall building system using the most advanced technology at an Innovations workshop with 3D printing pioneer, Bold Machines. The polymer based porous polyhedral units in vivid colours can be assembled in any order and number to suit needs, their flat tops providing shelving/ display space. 

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3D Printed Core

While the race to enable fast, flexible and reliable 3D printing of the entire structure is surely on, people like architect Platt Boyd of Tennessee, USA are concentrating on the process of getting precise 3D printed components to increase time and cost efficiency and factor in sustainability into the building process using this technology. Platt Boyd has developed a design for an incremental 3D printed core framework for walls, made by printing out fibre reinforced polymers or plastics. This framework could be laid out in any desired form and dimension, and then be matched with standard wall building and finishing materials, like sprayed concrete, to complete a wall. 

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3D Printed Micro and Macro Homes Using Re-Usable Bio Plastic

One must also recount the important research and action in this field carried out in 2016 by DUS Architects of Amsterdam towards creating a sustainable 3D print construction technology using almost 100% re-usable material which they called bio-plastic. Each and every component of a house’s exterior and interior was 3D printed with the same material and assembled into place at public displays, where the inputs gathered from viewers were then incorporated into the subsequent stage of research. Their first structure was an eight square metres micro cabin, a prototype for temporary shelters to house urban refugees or disaster-affected people. They went on to experiment with a full-scale structure called the Canal House in Amsterdam.

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Aectual 3D Printed Walls?! Well, Floors as well ...

A positive offshoot of the DUS experiments is a firm which specialises in 3D printing of walls and floors of buildings, called Aectual, born of requests from designers and engineers worldwide for specific research outcomes. Using liquefied plastics and a fused nozzle technology for printing, Aectual 3D prints customised walls, façade panels(cover image) and floors, and is able to offer different finishes like Terrazzo infills using additional materials as well.

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COBOD, a Customisable Building System

The final and most important mention in this list is reserved for Danish firm COBOD (Construction of Building On Demand) International, a 3D construction printing expertise organisation headed by a group of 3D printing experts, not architects or civil engineers. COBOD offers all the apparatus for 3D construction printing – printers (off-the-shelf and customised), printable concrete, printing expertise based on research and improvisation, white papers and training courses for learning the technology and all forms of support that any individual, designer or developer wishing to adopt this technology for constructing their building would need. So, essentially acting as a bridge-header to help ease initial trepidations of the construction industry in adopting 3D printing technology, 

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COBOD also helps clarify certain myths and false claims in this regard. They make it clear that only the raw shell (base, floors, walls and roof) of a building can be 3D printed using fast setting liquefied concrete effecting a substantial reduction in cost and time required for that component of construction. The rest of the components like finishing, plumbing, electrical, etc, would still be done conventionally. But, it’s the level of customer response COBOD has generated which speaks volumes as orders pour in from architectural designers wanting to gain advantage for realising fantasy forms to government bodies seeking to gain the edge in terms of economics and time. While BOD1 was all about scaling up a single printer to print an entire small structure, BOD2 saw several printers specialised in printing component modules to assemble into a structure. Be it an order for an 8 multi-storeyed  building project in a European country to be printed  in parts or one for a colony of 18000 small 2 room shelters in a disaster hit third world country to be printed by massive printers, each of which can print out 12 structures at a time – COBOD’s showing how to  bring the future home!!

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