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Technology, Construction - 4 min read

China’s 3D Printed Apartments

Jason Hook

Head of Sales and Marketing

Nov 25, 2016 11:49:01 AM

3D printing technology is taking the construction industry by storm, with promises of cheaper, faster and more environmentally-friendly alternatives to traditional construction. This case is best highlighted by Chinese company WinSun. In 2014, they printed 10 houses in 24 hours, and now they’re making apartments.

Below we explore the background to 3D printing, and what it means for the future of the construction industry in Australia.

 

China: The Building Powerhouse

It will come as little surprise to most people that China leads the world in 3D printing. As with many other emerging technologies, they’ve put the effort in over the past decade and are now really starting to see results.

3D printing is pioneering technology in the construction industry because it can create objects cheaply from sustainable and strong materials in a period of time previously unseen in the industry. And this is possible without compromising on design quality or the durability of the buildings. 

Ma Yihe, the inventor of WinSun’s 3D printer, holds his cards close to his chest. He is certain the technology is set to revolutionise the industry because customers can approach the company with a particular design and the printer can, essentially, spit it out in 3D. 

The printer itself stands at over 6 metres high, 10 metres wide and 40 metres long. This allows it to create significantly large objects, with this set to increase in time. It uses specially patented ‘ink,’ which is made from a combination of recycled concrete, fibreglass, sand and a hardening agent. 

And in many cases, 3D printing technology is proving to be a more efficient, cheaper, stronger and sustainable alternative to traditional construction. One house in China was built for under $5,000. Others can withstand earthquakes rating 8.0 on the Richter scale. And a property built on a canal in Amsterdam was made using bioplastics from 80% vegetable oil.

  

How this Can Change the Game 

Built at the Suzhou Industrial Park, the WinSun has their five-storey apartment standing proudly next to a recently developed 1,100 square-metre villa, an impressive and intricate engineering feat in itself. They are said to be sustainable and affordable, with orders already coming in from other countries. 

The Shanghai-based company claims that they can save 60% of the materials typically needed to construct a home of the same size, can build it 70% faster, and 80% less labour is needed. This minimises the environmental footprint of building work, as well as speeds up the process, greatly reducing the chance of on-site injury.

However, WinSun’s apartments are more important than just an engineering marvel. China (and indeed much of the developing world) has a significant housing problem. Affordable and safe housing just isn’t available, and this increases poverty. When these companies start to work with government, real progress will be made in this area. 

This is exactly what the Nanyang Technology University of Singapore is doing. Their Singapore Centre for 3D Printing works in conjunction with government in an effort to provide cheap and durable public housing. Especially when land is at a premium, apartments are a great option to house many people. It’s likely that this area will be given a greater emphasis in the future. 

3D printing is a powerful technology which will make a significant impact in the construction industry. What we’re seeing in China, particularly their apartments, is only the beginning. Watch this space. 

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