Is 3D printing homes the answer to the UK's housing crisis?

source cnn.

16 APRIL 2017 • 6:53PM

Imagine going to a website, choosing a home and printing it out, just as you might do with a boarding card. 

It sounds like something from the pages of science fiction, but elements of it are already available. WikiHouse is a website which allows anyone to upload or download a design for a home, modify it, then get a giant machine to cut it into plywood parts that slot together like Ikea furniture, using only a few bolts and screws.

Advances in 3D printing technology also mean printers can work with ordinary materials used in construction, such as concrete and steel.

The United Arab Emirates government has said it wants 25pc of buildings to be 3D-printed by 2030, turning Dubai into a centre for the sector worth Dh3bn (£657m). 

This could be possible says James Griffith, a structural engineer at Arup. “In Dubai they have a history of pushing pioneering buildings; I see no reason why they couldn’t be mass-producing lots of housing stock.” And anyway, 13 years is a very long time in this industry, says Davide Neri of Italian 3D printing manufacturer WASP.

“Today there are a lot of people researching – when we started in 2012 we were on our own.”

via Cazza

Cazza is designing the world's first 3D printed skyscraper CREDIT: ALEKSANDAR GRUSANOVIC

Dubai has already produced the first 3D-printed office, constructed by a robotic arm in 17 days, and recently some Americans announced plans to build the first 3D-printed skyscraper in the city.

Using a special crane called a “minitank”, Cazza Construction Technologies is hoping to add a concrete and steel tower knitted together by a computer to the Emirate’s skyline.

Chris Kelsey, the 19-year-old co-founder of Cazza, also claims that his printers can produce a 2,000 sq ft home in a single day. Over in America, there’s an even more extreme plan, with Nasa working out if it would be possible to take a 3D printer to Mars.

In the UK such techniques are in use by construction firms such as Skanska, which is “printing” concrete blocks at a facility at Loughborough University. It is hoped they will be used for big projects such as HS2.

Cazza is designing the world's first 3D printed skyscraper

Over in America, there’s an even more extreme plan, with Nasa working out if it would be possible to take a 3D printer to Mars

Unlike creating ready-made apartments in a factory using traditional labour, 3D printing is entirely done by computers.

“It has no frame of reference to the printers you or I can imagine,” says James Dearsley, a proptech consultant. “The best way of describing it is like a cement lorry with a chute.”

London-based architecture firm Facit Homes has recently completed a luxurious house in Highgate, north London, using what it describes as “digital manufacturing”, a combination of digital printing and traditional construction methods.

A house created by Facit Homes, partially by 3D printing

“Instead of bricks and mortar we use tech to produce the components,” says Rhys Denbigh, head of new business at the firm.

In this country, there are big hurdles to overcome for the technology to become widespread however.  Huge upfront investment is needed for such construction to be viable on a big scale and homes must be constructed in a certain way to satisfy planners.


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