By Viktor Chong
Gone are the days where housing projects may take years to be built. Cutting edge technology has ushered in mobile printers capable of printing out houses within 24 hours.
This achievement is a potential catalyst to a revolutionary change in the field of construction, and will very much define the future of property development.
How does it work
Unlike the conventional methodology, large concrete 3D printers are assembled on site. Where traditional construction requires the assembly of bricks through human labour, these machines operate through robotic arms.
To create the walls, the printer extrudes a solid-liquid mixture of cement, sand, geopolymer and fibre into layers, which mimics the characteristics of a concrete masonry unit wall. They begin by building the house from the inside out and are programmed to follow a specific pattern.
Hence, 3D printed houses are usually similar in appearance and size, although this limitation may be removed as technology advances. Once the exterior of the house has been completed, the printer is removed with the help of a crane and the roof placed in.
The pioneer of 3D printing construction, Apis Core, reportedly built a 410sq ft house at a price of approximately US$10,134 (RM43,335).
Here is the breakdown of the cost:
Foundation: US$277 (RM1,182.65)
Walls: US$1,624 (RM6,933.67)
Floor and roof: US$2,434 (RM10,391.96)
Wiring: US$242 (RM1,033.22)
Windows and doors: US$3,548 (RM15,148.19)
Exterior finishing: US$831 (RM3,547.95)
Interior finishing (including suspended ceiling): US$1,178 (RM5,029.47)
Since a single individual can operate the 3D printer, this drastically reduces the amount of labour workforce needed, further saving on cost. However, since 3D printing construction is a nascent technology, the printers themselves can be quite expensive. Even so, prices are predicted to drop, assuming that they are gradually accepted into mainstream construction.
Roofs for the needy
With the cheaper price tag, it is no surprise that people are already looking towards 3D printed houses to house the poor. As we speak, companies across the world are already leveraging on the technology.
Icon, an American-based company, has undertaken a non-profit project in Tabasco, Mexico to create 50 such houses, and they come with 500sq ft, two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bathroom.
Now that Malaysia is facing a shortage of affordable houses, perhaps 3D printing can be explored as a solution to raise cheap houses to shelter the poor quickly. All it takes is for a brave entrepreneur to make that first step.