Slowly but certainly, the construction industry is waking up to the opportunities of 3D printing. Especially huge concrete 3D printing robots are already proving their worth in a variety of research projects, with Chinese company WinSun already 3D printing entire homes, apartments and courtyards. Various other companies are following suit, and just last week Swiss construction giant LafargeHolcim and French startup XtreeE successfully 3D printed Europe’s first structural element in concrete.
While those are all very valuable breakthroughs that pave the way for 3D printed homes, office blocks and even bridges, these concrete innovations only focus on a single aspect of construction. After all, buildings are made from a lot more than concrete, and that’s why Romanian company Austrocasa International is applying those same concrete 3D printing principles to other construction materials such as clay and ceramics with their new RoboVAST 3D printer prototype. In time, other materials (such as recycled wood and plastic) can be 3D printed on the same scale, paving the way for completely 3D printed and sustainable homes.
This concept grew out of the startup’s own commitment to sustainability. A Romanian company based in Iași, they are building on a business model that strongly relies on digital modeling to construct homes and other buildings using eco-friendly materials such as wood, cellulose fiber, concrete mix, clay, and local recycled materials. They started offering eco-passive home kits made from these materials in 2003, and clients from anywhere in the world can submit their designs and preferences before receiving custom kits.
3D printing is thus a logical next step, and the Romanian developers see it as a perfect solution for the logistical problems that are inherent to the construction industry of today. “Construction companies lose money due to management problems, wasted materials, building delays, and the high cost of retaining a qualified workforce. Architects worry about limited design freedom and whether their plans will be accurately executed on the construction site,” they say. “On top of these problems, there are financial and logistical barriers to housing in many parts of the world. For many, quality housing is cost-prohibitive. For some, building a sustainable home is impossible due to their remote location.”
These are problems that Austrocasa is seeking to solve through 3D printing. Their RoboVAST 3D printer, they say, will provide their customers with an unprecedented variety in selecting house options, models and shapes – while speeding up production to keep costs as low as possible. “Our team believes in providing high-quality and eco-friendly homes at reasonable prices,” they add. They will also be offering 3D printed Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs) to replace conventional ICFs.
The benefits are obvious. For starters, they are overcoming the need for a costly and highly-skilled construction workforce that takes countless man-hours to complete a project. In fact, they believe that they can undercut market prices by about 50 percent. At the same time, the quality will remain the same or even improve, providing a cost-effective housing option that brings unparalleled design freedom to the table. Most importantly, they see their RoboVAST 3D printer as an environmentally responsible option as well, as it limits material waste.
However, the concept is still under development. The company developed their first DesignVAST 3D printer at the beginning of the year, which can already 3D print concrete mixes, clay and other building materials. “Our team will use this printer to print architect models and to test different construction materials,” they say. At the same time, it stands as a model for the RoboVAST 3D printer, which will be used to actually 3D print full-sized homes from a long list of materials.
On paper, at least, it seems as though Austrocasa has both the technology and sustainable mentality to make this a huge 3D printing success. But they are also thinking about the practical world already, with discussions ongoing for a partnership to 3D print a 50-home district in Gambia. More will doubtlessly follow.
This article is published on 3ders.org