3d-print-house

Are 3D printed houses practical? The experts weigh in

Recently Chinese company WinSun 3D printed 10 full-sized single storey houses in just 24 hours – a feat that seems incredible and may be able help solve housing problems around the world.

Discussions about printing 3D houses have been going on for some time, however printing a house may not be as simple as it has been made out – if it is even possible at all.

It was reported that the Chinese houses were built using printers to spray a mixture of cement and construction waste to build the walls, layer by layer.

The materials and lack of manual labour each house needed resulted in each being printed for under $5,000 dollars, it was claimed.

WinSun chief executive Ma Yihe said: “We can print buildings to any digital design our customers bring us. It’s fast and cheap.”

Jonathan Rowley, an architect from London-based  3D printing studio Digits2Widgets, told Factor that there are a lot of limitations preventing houses being made with the technology.

For example, there is the need to ensure a house is insulated and can be warm for those living inside, which cannot be achieved by 3D printer alone. The glass and rendering on the Chinese-produced houses, for example, needed to be man-made and inserted by hand.

Rowley said: “Some of what you are seeing is 3D printed. But the foundations you are never going to 3D print.

“If it [a 3d printer] goes wrong you have got to maintain it. You also have to consider if it works in the rain or not. Building sites are incredibly complicated and messy places.

“People are being led to believe that 3D printers make things as you want them. They can only print in a single material at the moment.

“It’s only going to be part of the process. They will only be able to produce a shell. There’s only a few things that come out of a 3D printer that are ready to go.”

Rowley did not, however, completely rule out basic 3D printed shells being used in disaster zones or areas where there is a need.

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Dr Phil Reeves, managing director of3D printing consultancy and research firm  Econolyst, also said that 3D printing on a construction site would not be the best way to utilise the technology.

“Personally, I really struggle with the idea of using onsite 3DP to make a house. Where is the benefit? Why not just take a 3-axis robot build a gantry and then deliver all the parts you need on trucks and assembly them?”

“It is no different. That way you get the benefits of automation, minimal waste and all the benefits of the myriad of different materials used in the construction industry.”

He also said that 3D printing has more to offer in high value products that are complex to manufacture using different techniques, for example engine parts for planes such as those designed by General Electric.

“However, I do see the benefit in the Chinese system of making panels on a production line and then assembling on site. This is just another form of modular construction, which has shown great promise already.

“Personally, I think there is a huge amount of band wagon jumping (3D printed houses, chocolate, food, drugs). The benefits of AM/3DP are in the production of small scale, complex and high value products.”


Images courtesy of WinSun


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