It’s not always that 3D printing is slower and more costly than the conventional methods. House printing is a fascinating technology that is sure to become a game-changer on the construction market and help solve lots of problems and issues on various levels – from individual to global ones.
How 3D printing will help solving the problem of overpopulation and increasing urbanization
According to United Nations, the world’s population is expected to continue growing rapidly in the future. With the current population of 7.3 billion, it is expected to reach 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. United Nations also predicts that as the world’s population grows, it will become increasingly urban. Today more than half of the world’s population lives in megacities and projections show that urbanization trend combined with the overall growth of the world’s population is likely to add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050, with close to 90 percent of the increase concentrated in Africa and Asia. All around the world people move to big cities because there’s little left to do in suburban areas and cities lure people with promises of better life. The inevitable and relentless processes of mechanization, robotization and industrialization will only quicken this process.
This trend is in turn connected with growth of slums, characterized by squalor and substandard housing, most of which lack reliable supply of clean water, sanitation services, timely law enforcement, reliable electricity and other basic conveniences. According to UN-HAIBTAT program, around 33% of the urban population of the developing countries in 2012 lived in slums. Often such places are extremely vulnerable to various natural and unnatural hazards and are a breeding-ground for violence, epidemics and unemployment.
Governments of many countries struggle to address this issue. One of the solutions would be to build cheap but well-planned and efficient housing complexes.
Facing the crisis where more and more people are in need of cheap yet efficient housing, we have a good opportunity to rethink our cities. They should become more sustainable, smart, and, of course, they should be able to grow fast.
Some countries have already started on this way, expanding cities and re-building whole districts, experimenting with various ideas for the future.
However, these projects are tremendously big and expensive, and as the country becomes richer and the value of workforce grows, at some point using machines becomes more profitable.
How does house printing work and look like?
3D printing houses follows the same general idea as 3D printing in general: printing things by gradually stacking material in layers one atop another.
There are multiple scenarios of how a building might be 3D printed. Buildings can be printed as a whole, or they can be assembled out of 3D printed pieces.
Printing relatively small and simple pieces to be assembled into a building is simpler and is a sort of a combination of conventional building process and 3D printing.
Printing houses directly is a more daring approach, requiring more research and much more complex machinery.
Although the solution offers to fully print houses on site, it is far from being autonomous. The printer works assisted by a large number of skilled workman and lots of various machinery including concrete mixer trucks, cranes, trucks and so on.
After the ground is leveled and the trench for the foundation is excavated and filled with concrete, special rails are installed. The two arms of the printer can move back and forth along the rails and they can move up and down. Between them there’s a crossbeam on which the printing nozzle is situated, free to move along the beam. This way, any specific point in 3-dimensional space can be reached by the nozzle.
A compressor pumps extremely fast drying concrete into and out of the nozzle of the printer, which moves so as to lay the concrete in a predefined 3-dimensional pattern.
In order to print a house directly, one needs a big 3D printer indeed. While such machines are feasible for small houses, how do we print huge apartment blocks? One of the ideas is to make 3D printers small, mobile and many instead of one gigantic house printer, which would solve the problem of scale at the cost of growing complexity of the process.
Structure of the walls
If we have the freedom and flexibility of 3D printing, why print standard walls? 3D printed walls have complex internal structure that makes them extremely functional: they are light-weight, require less material, can bare great loads and have good insulating characteristics thanks to all the air inside. Also, things like plumbing, electric cables and such can be installed or made room for during the process of printing a wall.
In addition, 3D printed houses should not necessarily have the standard design. Indeed, while it was the question of efficiency and costs to build square building with the conventional method, a 3D printed house can have just about any shape. This will turn out practical as well as aesthetically pleasing, especially in the areas where there’s danger of earthquakes and strength of a building is highly appreciated, for it is known very well that round structures are much more solid and earthquake resistant than the ones of square-shaped design. There are some old buildings standing in various seismically active regions that have survived solely by virtue of their round-shaped design. Also, round structures are very space- and energy-efficient, for a circle is the shape with the largest ratio of area to perimeter, which means more space inside while less wall surface to steal the heat.
3D printing promises to transform our notion of architecture and building design.
As mentioned above, one of the key advantages of house printing is freedom of design.
Dr Hank Haeusler, senior architecture lecturer at the University of NSW believes the main benefit of 3D printing is its potential for creating non-standard shapes.
If architect Jorn Utzon was trying to build the Sydney Opera House now, Dr Haeusler said he would definitely be looking at using 3D technology.
“I think for the bog standard Australian suburban house, I wouldn’t see any point in 3D printing because you can easily go and buy design components such as bricks easily from stores such as Bunnings. But if you want to design and build a house like the Opera House where you couldn’t’ get the components, then 3D printing becomes an advantage.”
While the technology of house 3D printing has not yet matured enough to make a significant contribution to affordable housing, it definitely can be used for building drastically untraditional constructions.
Now that 3D printing has entered the building industry, architects race to develop new designs, to completely rethink the traditional way we think about building. Quite a few of them are trying to find their inspiration in nature now that the technological restrictions dictating what can and what can’t be built are finally getting lifted.
Although it is unlikely that in the nearest future we’ll all move to bizarre-looking houses like on the pictures above, some improvements that will come with the capabilities of 3D printing will surely be quite handy.
It’s happening already
Last year Chinese company WinSun Decoration Design Engineering printed 10 houses in just 24 hours with what they claimed to be the world’s biggest 3D printers:
The total cost was just $5,000 per house. Although these houses were very simple, consisting of a single room each, the company has also built a five-storey house, which they claim is the “world’s tallest 3D printed building” as well as a 3D printed mansion with the price of about $161,000:
Automatization and workplaces
The progress moves forward at a galloping pace, continuously amazing us with all the new things people have come up with. However, there are also some negative issues here. Quite a lot of people are anxious about machines increasingly replacing human workers. If a machine capable of quickly efficiently building houses is developed, it will mean that millions of people will lose their jobs.
Some argue that these fears are groundless as many new workplaces will be created for servicing the house printers, developing new building designs and so on. And indeed, just one hundred years ago most of the population of even the most developed countries were farmers. Today their share in the developed countries is around 1-2% of the population and still there’s work for people. On the other hand, the devil is in the details. As the house printing machines will be far more efficient than human workers, the building would have to be carried out at an insane pace in order to provide the same number of workplaces, but do we have so many customers? We will have for a time if such houses turn out to be really cheap, but it will mean very fast expansion and so will only work for some time. The progress makes us process more and more resources into all sorts of useful things and useless rubbish just so that the system keeps running. However, the progress is unstoppable and we can only marvel at its fruits.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, let me know in the comments section.