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The problem with 3D printed houses

I have heard a LOT of “problems”  about 3D printed houses, but I feel like the major problem with this industry is being ignored. If you look around the Internet for “problems with the 3D printed house” you get arguments such as they looked “cheap” or they wonder how one could add rebar to the 3D printed structures.

 That’s probably because most of those who do these shows or podcasts might be engineers, but they don’t have much knowledge of 3D printed construction so a lot of them seem to be taking educated guesses.

And it is working!

I understand why. This type of content gets a lot of attention because, when you look at how construction 3D printing is portrayed in the media, it often seems to good to be true.

Even I, when I first heard of 3D printed houses I went to Google and typed in “3D printed house problem”:

The first article on problems with the 3D printed house that comes up it a pretty decent, but outdated one by architizer, in which they doubt the applicability of 3D printing to functional buildings.

These doubts can be considered unsubstantiated at least since the first family moved into a 3D printed house in France.

 

The next website is called “treehugger” and what they try to point out is 3D printed houses don’t fix any problem because the has never been technological, it’s  “economical”.

This made me honestly cringe a little, yeah, 3D printed houses don’t solve poverty im sorry….

The goal is to provide cheaper houses so even people in poverty can afford shelter and live a more comfortable life… Solving poverty has never been the claim…

But if that’s not the case either, then what are the problems with the 3D printed house??

As you can see it is not the rebar, they don’t have to look cheap as you can see here and I don’t think there should be any safety concerns.

Why I deem 3D printed houses fairly safe is something you can read more about in my article on safety  but in short, the structures they produce are but regular concrete structures, the technology of how they got there isn’t as important…

The chinese company Winsun even claimed that their houses were designed to withstand an 8 on a Richter scale….

 

I remember back then, I thought maybe the 3D printed house has no problems? Maybe the industry is perfect? Maybe we can trust them and assume that 3D printed houses are the greatest invention since the wheel?

 

Well, short answer? No. 3D printed houses are great, I am a big fan of them but the huge problem with 3D printed houses is the lack of transparency in the industry.

Recently, one of the main companies in the business of 3D printed construction called “COBOD” has released a white paper on the current state of 3D printed construction and it looks vastly different from what the press has been telling us. 

I do realize that some of you are going to take what follows with a grain of salt since COBOD, being in the industry themselves, definitely might appear biased.

Personally, I trust this white paper, not only since it has been released in cooperation with the danish government after 3 years of study, but it also backs up all of their claims with evidence and if they didn’t I am 99 percent sure they would immediately face a huge lawsuit.

For the skeptics among you, we will analyze other sources later in the video.

 

First of all they take on one of the world’s leaders in 3D printed houses: Winsun. 

The chinese 3D printed housing reputation already took a big hit when the company Qingdao Unique Products announced the biggest construction printer in the world, however when people urged them to show it to the world, it was a lonely device in the middle of a large hall. They didn’t even bother to put on a printhead, let alone ever print something good with it.

Now, the problem with the 3D printed houses by Winsun is that they don’t actually print on site. They don’t go anywhere with their printer and if you look around YouTube you’ll quickly realize the only published video of them printing is in a large hall.

In other words, they simply print 3D printed parts and then move them to the desired location and assemble them.

Which has more implications… To quote COBOD, this also means:

Therefore, when Winsun claimed to have done 10 buildings in 10 days, it actually meant, that they assembled 10 buildings in 10 days, out of elements 3D printed in the factory long before. It does not mean that the entire process of 3D printing and assembling at site took just 10 days
COBOD
Construction company

Also, the very interesting architectur in Winsun’s buildings is appearently made by traditional constructions and not in the 3D printer.

However, please don’t get me wrong here!

I am not saying the problem with the 3D printed house is the fact that they don’t print on site. Maybe that is the future of construction, I don’t know. My problem is they should have been more upfront about it.

Also, I think it is definitely too soon for them to call themselves the “leader of 3D printed architecture…”

The next company which has raised some misunderstandings, to say the least, is Apis Cor. 

I have to start out by giving credit, where credit is due. Apis Cor definitely has had a lot of success in the 3D printed construction industry

As you can see they had a very impressive performance in the NASA 3D printed habitat challenge and have already printed plenty of buildings for example for Dubai.

 

Nevertheless, they have had some problems as well, I’m not sure if this was even intentional from their part. Many people also thought that their building had been 3D printed in 24h, but all they said in their press release was, it would be possible to print a building in 24h. 

In my opinion they could have more open prints, they are often reserved for russian speakers only.

Furthermore, at least as of fall 2019 they are in research and development mode and don’t actually sell any printers

No company is getting a pass today, so next is ICON…

ICON has raised a lot of attention to themselves when partnering up with the non-profit “New story” in order to 3D print houses for the homeless. 

As of january 2021, the video has been viewed 4.5 million times and has very quickly introduced a lot of people to 3D printing houses…

 

As ICON CEO said in an interview on better shelter, it’s important for sustainable housing to be sexy and cool.

I think they kind of managed to do that, the 3D printed houses look slick, definitely an improvement on older models. Even the printer looks very decent… I am unsure though if this is the ideal solution longterm, since printers like this might create difficulties such as longer times to set up or higher risk of getting destroyed by wind.

 

In this video they said the printer CAN print a house in under 24h. CAN. Nobody has ever printed a house in under 24h, even without considering setting up the printer, building the roof, general extras…

As you can see in their own video, the sun rises and sets multiple times during the construction process, which again only included the walls. Noone is 3D printing the roof on top, noone is 3D printing plumbing, windows…

Again, I would have wished a little more transparency on how long the process took….