SF Technotes

3-D Printed Villages

By Michael Castelluccio
May 21, 2019
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The notion that you might print something as large as a house with a 3D printer is no longer an unrealistic speculation. It’s now well established that the size of what a 3D printer can create is relative only to the size of the printer you build.

 

And using the same basic engineering, these astonishing machines can print a wide range of objects. With a bioprinter, you can print tissues and organs, and with an Apis Cor 3D printer, you can construct “affordable, eco-friendly fiber concrete homes in a day. Homes that can last for up to 175 years.” In fact, Apis Cor claims they are ready to start building the first homes on Mars.

 

The first 3D-printed house constructed on site for residents showed up in March 2017, outside of Moscow. Apis Cor, a company with locations in San Francisco and Russia,  transported its printer and supplies to the site. The yellow, 410-square-foot circular house was constructed/printed in 24 hours at a total cost of $10,134. That includes all labor, materials, and finishing. (Photo above courtesy Apis Cor.)

 

The 3D printer was five feet tall and was transported to the site on a truck. The printer can be operated by a crew of two using tablet computers. Click here for detailed information on the process, the materials, and the harsh conditions in which the landmark went up.

 

COMMUNITIES AND VILLAGES

 

Since 2017, quite a few others have entered the market, and organizations such as universities and nonprofits that provide housing are now actively involved. This summer there are two relatively ambitious projects are planned for the summer of 2019 in two distant parts of the world.

 

 

Image from the YouTube video “How the world’s first habitable 3D printed houses are made”

 

In the Netherlands, Eindhoven University of Technology has announced plans to build five houses that will be made available to renters. A national shortage of bricklayers has encouraged the University to enlist the Van Wijnen construction company to create 3D-printed houses. The small community has been named Project Milesone, and it has the look of a sculpture garden.

 

Five groups are working on the plans including an architectural firm, a contractor, a materials manufacturer, an engineering company, and a real-estate firm. The first house will be a single-story, three-bedroom bungalow. It will be followed by four multi-level homes. The work is expected to be finished in five years.

 

In the announcement in June 2018, the University claimed, “The project is the world’s first commercial housing project based on 3D-concrete printing. The houses will all be occupied, they will meet all modern comfort requirements, and they will be purchased to let out by a real-estate company.”

 

The Eindhoven University team is led by Theo Salet, a researcher who helped design the world’s first 3D-printed concrete bridge in 2017. Salet explains, “3D-printing of concrete is a potential game changer in the building industry. Besides the ability to construct almost any shape, it also enables architects to design very fine concrete structures. Another important advantage is sustainability, as much less concrete is needed and hence much less cement, which reduces CO2 emissions originating from cement production.”

 

Image from the video overview at youtu.be/ZMFssp7D6Xk

 

The other large project involves the plan to print 50 houses for farmers and palm weavers in a small community somewhere in Central America. The exact location will be revealed when the building is completed. Three companies are combining their talents including the design firm Fuseproject from San Francisco, Calif., ICON a construction technologies company from Austin, Texas, and New Story, a nonprofit specializing in addressing global homelessness based in San Francisco, and Atlanta, Ga.

 

ICON’s 3D printer is called the Vulcan, and it’s their first commercially available construction printer. It’s designed to be used in rural settings where power isn’t always reliable, drinking water can be scarce, and technological help has to be imported. It’s designed specifically to build single-story buildings, and it has expanded its footprint to 2,000 square feet. It has tablet-based controls and LED lights for night work, and is brought to the site in ICON’s custom trailer, already assembled for use.

 

 

Image of the tablet that controls the Vulcan printer courtesy ICON.

 

Jason Ballard, a co-founder of ICON, says this of remote or rural settings: “Conventional construction methods have many baked-in drawbacks and problems that we’ve taken for granted for so long that we forget how to imagine any alternatives. With 3D printing, you not only have a continuous thermal envelope, high thermal mass, and near zero-waste, but you also have speed, a much broader design palette, next-level resiliency, and the possibility of a quantum leap in affordability. This isn’t 10% better, it’s 10 times better.”

 

A Fuseproject founder told the press that for “families living on less than $200 per month, access to safe housing that provides shelter from both environmental and physical danger is critical.” He added that homeowners in their joint project can have a two- or three-bedroom plan, and the outside cement can be tinted several colors.

 

New Story CEO Brett Hagler explained in a press release, “Linear methods will never reach the billion-plus people who need safe homes. Challenging our assumptions, iterating based on data, and taking calculated risks on innovative ideas will allow us to reach more families with the best possible solutions, exponentially faster.”

 

In a little more than two years we have gone from the first on-site 3D-printed house, built in the Russian winter of 2017, to the addition of 50 new homes in a small village during the Central American summer.

 



Michael Castelluccio has been the Technology Editor for Strategic Finance for 24 years. His SF TECHNOTES blog is in its 21st year. You can contact Mike at mcastelluccio@imanet.org.


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