There’s been a lot of excitement around 3D printed construction lately – particularly around the speed at which houses can be 3D printed. Just a few days ago, Spanish startup Be More 3D unveiled their construction 3D printer, designed to print houses in 12 hours or less. It’s not the first company to make claims to 3D print houses in a day or less, generating a great deal of attention and amazement – but 3D printing company 3D Printhuset is now saying “hang on, everybody just calm down.”
3D Printhuset knows 3D printed construction well. The Danish company is responsible for constructing the first 3D printed building in Europe to meet European building codes, a small office hotel called the Building on Demand, or BOD. 3D Printhuset started 3D printing the building in September of last year and finished in November, and while unexpected delays made the project take longer than anticipated – they had hoped for a timetable of just a few weeks – that’s a more realistic timeline for a 3D printed building, according to the company.
In fact, 3D Printhuset says, no buildings have been created in 24 hours – that’s just hype. And there has been a lot of hype about 3D printed construction, from super-fast houses to plans for 3D printed skyscrapers. But how realistic is any of it? That’s what 3D Printhuset means to address in a written report about 3D printed construction that the company recently published. It’s only in Danish as of yet, but so much demand has been made for it to be translated into other languages that 3D Printhuset is considering doing so, and has also been speaking about the 108-page report at multiple conferences.
“We are happy to share the knowledge we have collected and present it in an objective way,” said 3D Printhuset CEO Henrik Lund-Nielsen. “The truth is very much different from what the media has been reporting, and we believe it is beneficial for all, that expectations are brought in line. It is still a great technology with a huge potential, but the present performance is not as mind blowing as the media has reported.”
It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing all of the hype, even the patently unbelievable, such as when Chinese construction company WinSun claimed to 3D print 10 houses in one day. That was later called into question by experts, and while claims of 3D printed houses being put up in 12 or 24 hours aren’t necessarily false, it’s important to remember that these are generally very small houses thus far, and that a lot of work still needs to be done to complete a structure after the 3D printing is finished – you can’t 3D print plumbing, for example. Not yet, anyway.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t expect to see 3D printed skyscrapers in the future? Not necessarily – but these projects just aren’t as simple as people are making them out to be, says 3D Printhuset. Things can and will go wrong; it’s not a matter of setting up a 3D printer and just popping buildings out one after another.
“When we did The BOD, we did not fall into the trap of promising too much,” said Lund-Nielsen. “Rather we explained openly what went well and what did not go as planned. Such kind of honest information is needed for everyone to understand what can be expected from the technology and where the present solutions should be improved. We hope that others will be inspired by that in future projects, such that more objective information becomes available.”
It’s important, too, to remember that the BOD was the first 3D printed building in Europe to meet the EU’s strict building codes. It’s one thing to 3D print a house, and another to 3D print it so that it fulfills all the necessary regulations.
No one is saying that we shouldn’t get excited about the potential that 3D printed construction has to offer – just that its realistic capabilities need to be made clear. Delays in ambitious projects are common. It’s similar to the hype that went around when 3D printing itself first became known; outrageous claims were made and later dialed back to a more realistic view of the industry. There will be a 3D printer in every home and we’ll 3D print everything we need = every home will be 3D printed in one day. The frenzied excitement about 3D printed construction will eventually fade to a more reasonable understanding of the technology, and it may be 3D Printhuset’s report that helps to at least start the process.
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