The video shows a robot arm squeezing out layers of concrete over and over again. As the layers build up and the outline of a structure emerges, it becomes clear that the robot is building a house with mercurial speed. The video, made by San Francisco-based Apis Cor outside Moscow, went viral. With reason, the robot put up a house for $10,000 in a day.
The video was viewed 75 million times, a sign of the excitement created when a revolutionary technology, in this case 3D printing, meets construction. Printable buildings now represent the latest wave in construction and competition is heating up in the space.
“3D printing will allow architects and builders to dream up extraordinary edifices that would be difficult and expensive to build using traditional methods,” Brooklyn architect James Sheldon told Proactive Investors.
After unveiling the world’s first 3D printed building three years ago, Dubai now wants a fourth of its buildings to be printed in the next seven years. Use of 3D printing technology in the construction of Dubai’s “Office of the Future,” as the building is known, helped cut labor costs by half and allowed for much faster construction time, according to the Dubai Future Foundation.
The move is part of Dubai’s ambitious strategy to become the world’s 3D-printing hub by 2030.
Enter the Dragon
A Chinese company now plans to print a seven-meter high intricate temple using 3D printing technology. Qingdao Unique Products Develop Co Ltd claims it has the world's largest 3D printer which weighs 120 tons, or as much as a steam locomotive.
According to Qingdao Unique founder CEO Wang Hong, the company spent six months developing the giant printer, which was assembled using cranes.
The Chinese company is building a pagoda-style temple using graphene glass fiber reinforced plastic as its 3D printing material, since it is light, strong, corrosion-resistant, and environment friendly. The Chinese 3D printer has a wide X and Y axis of 12 meters.
The US advantage
Privately-held US firm GrapheneCA announced last week that it has inked a pact with Apis Cor to develop a 3D printing system capable of printing graphene materials.
The New York company, which develops graphene-based technology for industries, is partnering with Apis Cor, the first company to develop specialized equipment for 3D printing in construction capable of printing whole buildings completely on site.
“We will design an extruder and mixing system that will be embedded into Apis Cor’s 3D printer,” said David Robles, head of business development at GrapheneCA.
“The 3D printer may not be quite as large, but it has a 4.5-meter boom arm and it moves. It prints up to two storeys tall on its own so in terms of being able to build a super large structure it could out build the Chinese machine because the printer is much faster.”
Robles said the ability to 3D print graphene material could lead to a “breakthrough” in the construction industry as printers are expected to locally produce other materials such as cement, helping to cut associated labor costs and significantly reduce construction time.
"Graphene is a multi-tasking super additive, with one material and much lower loads than traditional additives," said Dr Sergey Voskresensky, head of R&D at GrapheneCA.
"Even better, it is possible to achieve really stunning properties like conductivity, heat dispersion, controlled permeability, and all that is changing is the load of graphene in the 3D printer ink. For us, what that means is a single base material can provide most of the functions of dozens of other materials, speeding up and simplifying construction."
GrapheneCA first began producing pristine graphene flakes in July 2017 from its production facility in Brooklyn, New York. Its technology has been patented and GrapheneCA is preparing for mass production to advance a number of commercial applications for its graphene supply.
“Imagine being able to print a residential 2,500 square feet home in a day, for less than $8,000, or envision a mobile 3D printer that can solve current construction bottlenecks,” said Robles. “This could lay the groundwork for making 3D printed graphene a standard material in the construction process.”
Mobile 3D printers
According to GrapheneCA, mobile 3D printers capable of locally manufacturing graphene are expected to “greatly simplify” the process of building in remote natural disaster areas, or on islands.
The company pointed out that 3D printers could allow developers to construct buildings able to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes “in a matter of days.” These advances are expected to bring “affordable housing” a step closer to becoming a reality, said the company.
“New materials and its advanced properties will open new horizons,” said Apis Cor founder CEO Nikita Cheniuntai. “Collaborating with GrapheneCA brings us closer to disrupting the 3D printing materials for construction.”
3D printing technology could play an important role in tackling the challenges of low-cost housing for the exploding urban population, according to the World Economic Forum, which expects the global market for 3D printing to reach $32.78 billion by 2023.
Contact Uttara Choudhury at [email protected]
—(Updates with quotes from Dr Sergey Voskresensky, head of R&D at GrapheneCA)—