Will You Print Your New Home in the Future?

The race is on to build 3D printed houses a breakthrough, which will have significant consequences for housing affordability, customisation and the environment.

Already, a Chinese company, WinSun claims to have printed 10 houses in 24 hours for just $US5,000 ($AU6,494) each, using a 3D printer that applies a mixture of ground construction and industrial waste, around a base of quick-drying cement mixed with a special hardening agent. Using a CAD template, large pieces fabricated at the WinSun facility are then assembled on-site, complete with steel reinforcements and insulation to comply with building standards. 

WinSun has further demonstrated the success of its technology with a five-storey apartment building and a 1,100 square metre (11,840 square foot) villa, costing about $US161,000 ($AU209,111) and on display at Suzhou Industrial Park.

According to Michelle Starr of Tech Culture, WinSun argue that their process saves between 30 and 60 percent of construction waste, and can decrease production times by between 50 and 70 percent, and labour costs by between 50 and 80 percent meaning a substantial reduction in build costs and ultimately, increased housing affordability. Using recycled materials in this way, should also translate into more environmentally responsible construction.

In Amsterdam, a team of architects led by Hedwig Heinsmand, has also started construction of a 3D Print Canal House, using bio-based, renewable materials. However, Adam Estes of Gizmodo says that Branch Technology, of Tennessee have gone one better. Unlike the Amsterdam project which will take 3 years to complete, and the Chinese houses which were basic in design, the Branch model emphasises both speed and design, yielding beautiful but realistic structures in a little less time than a normal construction process. 

To do this, they claim to have built the world’s largest 3D printer to create walls of any shape out of conventional construction materials so that architects will have more freedom to incorporate new geometries into their designs. Walls are printed to form a simple lightweight scaffolding onto which denser materials are added, increasing the strength of the overall structure. “When geometry is not an issue, you can do almost anything,” argues Branch CEO, Platt Boyd. Branch hopes to expand internationally and with architects producing a design library which Branch can pull from, they aim to turn design into a structure with just a few keystrokes. 

Dr Hank Haeusler, senior architecture lecturer at the University of NSW thinks that Australians could be living in 3D printed houses in 5 to 10 years with the technology now available to make this a reality. Dr Haeusler said that once the cost of hiring builders reached a “tipping point”, 3D printing would become a more attractive alternative. However “at the moment it wouldn’t make a contribution to affordable housing because technology has not got to the stage yet where it could be used for mass commercial production.