Why can 3D printing technology be a dead end?

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There is a growing interest in 3D house printing technology in the world. Tapes are full of new projects and technologies. More and more countries are investing in printing houses. However, the bustle around technology begins to resemble the inflation of a new technology bubble, similar to the dot-com bubble in the 2000s. As a member of a small design office, I talked a lot with builders both in Russia and outside of it, asking the question “What prevents you from taking and using the technology of 3-D printing houses in real construction?”. I reduced the answers to several factors. In addition, according to the results of the survey, it became clear to us that there are prospects for robotic building systems, we just need to offer the market a different way of building with a robot. Which one Read the article, I’ll tell you everything.
Factors hindering the introduction of 3-D printing technology for homes in real construction.
By real construction, I mean the massive use of technology on construction sites. In this case, the application should not be lonely-enthusiasts, but real developers.


So, the first factor: Legislation and the test of time.

Mankind has regulated the construction industry since the days of Hammurabi. Even then, lawmakers and builders understood the importance of regulating construction. This importance has been preserved even now. Most countries regulate and control the technologies used in construction. Many rules were written on the basis of large losses and human victims. And each newly introduced technology required new legislative regulation. In itself, the publication of regulatory standards is not expensive, it is expensive to carry out the necessary research and expertise. For the markets of developed countries it will take tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to introduce a new technology into the legal field, which is radically different from those that are used now. So the question of who will invest in the process of legislative regulation of the technology of 3-D printing houses is still not resolved in most countries. Most likely, the state will pay for technology certification. As in China, where the company “WinSun” in large quantities prints blocks to build houses.
The construction market is conservative, and with healthy skepticism is new. And this is good! After all, we are talking about big money and people’s lives. With the same skepticism, real developers are looking at the technology of 3-D printing houses. Discussing the issues of robotization of construction, I often hear: “Here will stand an object built by a 3-D printer of 50-80 years … And then we will look at your robots in business …”. It is clear that experienced builders say this, trusting only brick and concrete, but among young builders there is a considerable share of skeptics. Which of them is right, we will find out in 50-80 years 🙂

The second factor: the technology of 3-D printing houses is limited until low-rise buildings

If the guys from WinSun can assemble from printed blocks of a house 5-6 floors high, then for projects “print a house in place” the height is limited to 2, maximum 3 floors. Theoretically, the technology of 3-D printing can be used on high-rise construction, but the requirements for the printed mixture (about it below) allow only low-rise housing to be printed on site. Why Because the terms of the set strength of the printed mixture range from 10 to 21 days. It turns out that to print the second floor you need to wait from 10 to 21 days. And printing a three-story house will require a minimum of 42 days. It turns out that the printer can quickly print the walls of one floor, and then you have to wait a long time. And this is either equipment downtime, or the need to transport it during the waiting period, which also increases the cost of construction and requires the printer to be re-linked to the construction site. In addition, the smooth progress of construction is disrupted, which entails gaps with the planning and quality of work.

The third factor: a mixture for printing.

The composition of the mixture for printing is a compromise between the requirements of printing technology and the requirements for erected structures. The mixture must be plastic at the same time in order to be well transported to the place of printing and to gain strength quickly to withstand the weight of subsequent layers. In addition, the mixture should have a high adhesion, providing gluing in a horizontal plane. Here is a list of the minimum requirements for the mixture. In fact, it is big and changes quite a lot depending on the printing technologies used.
In addition, the printing process itself is designed so that any error in the composition of the mixture leads to a large-scale alteration, which reduces to zero the benefits of the technology used. This statement refers to the technology of printing houses “at the construction site”. The technology of the company WinSun problem with the quality of the mixture is solved. Individual blocks are printed there, and if there is a print defect, they simply reprint the block again.

Although the guys from the Renka say that they have a mixture for a 3D printer, which very quickly gains strength. The mixture provides high printing speed, well, let’s see how this mixture will conquer the market.

High demands on the quality of the mixture require well-tested and stable ingredients, which cannot always be achieved. Especially it concerns the inert components of the mixture. I know of a case in which the replacement of sand from one pit to the sand from another pit led to the failure of the printer’s concrete pump, although the dimension of the sand was the same, only the shape of the sand particles changed.

The most important factor: people.

Those involved in construction, it is known that the main pest at a construction site is a construction worker. And the higher the qualification of the worker, the more damage he can cause.
The technology of 3-D printing houses requires the presence of two highly skilled workers. One is the operator serving the printer itself. The second is the operator of the complex for the preparation of the mixture. In this case, the qualification of the operator responsible for the preparation of the mixture should be high enough for the rapid determination of the quality of the prepared mixture. Requirements for the qualifications of operators set fairly high wages, which, combined with the cost of a 3-D printer, makes it more profitable to take three masons and do everything the old fashioned way.


I listed the main factors that influence the skepticism of the builders to the new technology. Now I will talk about alternative construction technology using robots.
The technology is called: Robot – mason. In the world of inventors of robot builders, bricklayer robots are not as popular as 3D printers in homes. Now on the horizon with really working installations, two companies are visible – the American “Construction Robotics” and the Australian “Fastbrick Robotics”. Well, our team “TAMGA” from Irkutsk.
Now I will explain why the technology of the robot-bricklayer has more chances to become a real construction technology using robots, than the technology of 3-D printing houses.

Factor One: everything is just like an ordinary bricklayer.

A bricklayer places bricks by the same algorithm as a human bricklayer. The result of their work is not much different. This means that the builder, the designer and, most importantly, the customer know what result they will get. Masonry technology has been studied for a long time, and there are all regulatory documents. If a robot mason puts bricks on the standards of the construction industry, then the cost of introducing the technology used in the legal field will be an order of magnitude less than with 3-D printing of buildings. For Russia, and for other countries, most likely, too, it is important to have data on the cost of work and materials in the construction of brick walls. Using a 3-D printer requires additional calculations, when everything is clear in the case of a bricklayer robot – I entered the data into the program, it calculated how much time it would take to build a wall, how much brick it would take, how much it would cost the customer. Further, he compared the costs of a robot-bricklayer and people-masons and made an informed decision.
The brickwork itself is perfectly algorithmized, since it deals with a limited number of elements (bricks) and a clearly defined order of laying bricks into the walls. It’s a paradise for mathematicians, in contrast to the slicer programs that require adjustments that take into account the temperature and humidity of the environment when printing with a 3-D printer.

Factor two: work time.

A bricklayer places bricks without stopping. And this is the main and most important difference between it and a 3-D printer. What is a building? A building is strength according to a specific contour. If the robot of the stonecutter, the strength of the brick is pre-formed at the brick manufacturing plant, then for a 3-D printer of buildings, the strength is formed during the printing process. And this means that the robot-bricklayer does not waste time waiting for a set of strength, he puts a brick. Thus, even with a 3-D printer capable of generating a larger volume compared to a robot bricklayer, a robot bricklayer is able to win over the total construction time. While the 3-D printer is waiting for the durability for printing the second floor, the robot-mason will complete the laying of the third floor! On our models simulating the speed of construction with the use of a robot-bricklayer and a 3-D printer, according to the results of the calculations, it turned out that the robot-bricklayer finishes the job faster than the printer 3-5 times!
In addition, the possibility of rejecting bricks until they reach the robot bricklayer can reduce downtime and improve the quality of work, because all the bricks have already passed the control, and the laying goes without stopping.

The third factor: the height of construction.

Construction and engineering experience in the construction of buildings made of brick determined the best ways for laying brick in the construction of tall buildings. The use of a robot-bricklayer allows you to implement interesting construction solutions that combine several different construction technologies – solid concrete and brickwork. Such a combination allows building high-rise buildings of several dozen floors. We will discuss this technology in more detail in a separate article. Thus, in the construction of high-rise buildings, the robot mason turns out to be a potential winner of the 3-D printing technology of buildings.
Fourth factor: people.

A bricklayer requires a qualified operator who may not be inferior in qualification to a 3-D printer operator. But there is no need for a second specialist – the operator of the center for the preparation of the mixture. Thus, the operation of the bricklayer will be 50% cheaper than a 3-D printer. In addition, anyone who has minimal experience in construction will be able to visually control the quality of the masonry and correct the work on time, unlike the 3-D printing process, when many factors that are difficult to control by an ordinary person, for example, humidity level, will affect the quality of construction.

There is another, in my opinion, the most important factor shaping the superiority of the robot-mason technology over 3-D printing technology.


Fifth factor: business scheme.

Above, I wrote about the differences between the technologies of robotic construction, their pros and cons. Now we need to say how the business will be built on the use of construction technologies.
The robot mason in our project uses special bricks and special masonry glue. The shape of the brick, as well as the composition of the adhesive will be patented, which will provide protection against counterfeit products and a guarantee of quality construction. We do not plan to sell robots, but bricks and glue. This is the main thing in our business scheme. The robots themselves will be operated by special organizations that have the necessary specialists who can both manage and serve our robots. Investors of our project will understand how and where the money will appear. The classic example we have taken is the sale of a printer and cartridges for it. The business scheme is clear, in addition, the printer will have built-in control mechanisms that do not allow the use of third-party products.
This is how our project differs from projects on using 3-D printers, which often have an interest in the printing process itself, rather than making money.
In general, anyone interested in cooperating with the project (investors, builders, or just interested) write me at ceo @ athouse.xyz , I will be happy to answer.