Aectual Circular Allows 3D Printed Architecture Pieces to Be Recycled


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Dutch additive design firm Aectual has launched a beta design-to-delivery program, as well as an online store, for its 3D printed architectural and interior products. Now, it’s possible to purchase from the company such 3D-printed elements as “terrazzo artwork flooring, fixtures, wall paneling, columns, façades, stairs, room dividers, planters and table screens — even entire buildings — that are all made from 100% circular, sustainable recycled and renewable materials.”

Aectual spun out of the 3D printed Canal House, among the first additive construction projects to make international headlines. As members of DUS Architects worked on that project, they were so flooded with requests for work and collaboration that a new firm was spun out. The company began with 3D printed floors, walls and façade panels, as well as 3D printed molding for the creation of concrete elements.

“Aectual addresses a serious global challenge: the construction sector accounts for 39% of all global carbon emissions and is one of the largest polluting industries in the world. Aectual’s turnkey platform enables AEC professionals and consumers to create beautiful, customized XL 3D-printed buildings, architectural and interior design products from 100% recyclable, renewable materials that minimize waste and don’t harm the planet,” said Hedwig Heinsman, co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer of Aectual. “We enable world-class architects, designers and brands to realize their own bespoke designs on demand, at any scale and in any building, and to create truly unique, 100% sustainable products without being slowed down by extensive prototyping and long lead times.”

Using large industrial robots, Aectual extruded plastic objects that were then filled in with terrazzo, resulting in unique looking design elements. This led to an array of fascinating projects, which Aectual highlighted in a press release: “flooring in Amsterdam Schiphol International Airportflooring in BMW World in Munichprinted display walls in Nike Town Londona tiny bauhaus (aka studio shed or she shed)flooring that uses recycled Budweiser bottles at Capital C offices in Amsterdam and the temporary EU building in Amsterdam.”

3D printed formwork is used to create Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete, reducing material waste by a reported 35 percent. Formwork can then be recycled into new material. Image courtesy of Aectual.

Now, the company is launching 12 specific products in seven categories, all of which can be customized:

  • “Flooring: terrazzo pattern — available in bio or ultra-thin bio
  • Furniture: curtains and bookcases
  • Façade Cladding and Wall Paneling
  • Outdoor: sun screens and canopies
  • Concrete Elements: stairs, pavements and façade cladding
  • Interior Design: planters, room dividers and table screens”

Aectual hosts the aforementioned parametric products that customers can customize and order. Or professionals in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry can upload their own models to have produced by the company. Aectual will then 3D print and install the product. Aectual is partnered with Henkel for materials, ABB for the robotics, and Arup, a major British multinational professional services firm with important and innovative architecture and engineering divisions.

Architectural products AEC professionals can customize and purchase. Image courtesy of Aectual.

The company suggests that the cost of its architectural elements has been reduced by 50 percent, while production times have been sped up by 10 times. Moreover, Aectual claims that its products are “circular”, in terms of material usage. Once a product is no longer useful to a customer, they can send it back to the company, which will recycle it and 3D print the material into new products. Aectual claims that this results in “35% to 95% material reduction due to its parametric designs, the number of materials needed, special manufacturing and product design optimization.” So, it may not be perfectly circular and there are sure to be carbon costs embedded into the transport of products, but this is certainly a start to reforming what is an otherwise entirely wasteful global consumer society.

A diagram representing the Aectual Circular concept. Image courtesy of Aectual.

In addition to attempting to introduce as much circularity into their manufacturing ecosystem as possible, Aectual also claims to strive to use all bio-based materials. This includes bio-plastic created by Henkel, as well as a soy-based binding agent, made in collaboration with partner Duracryl, for its terrazzo flooring. This makes it the first terrazzo floor that is Red List free. Stones used by Aectual are made from upcycled materials from the marble industry.

Interested AEC professionals can sign up for the beta version of Aectual’s enterprise program, where prices start at USD$24 per square foot (€200 per square meter). Consumers can purchase customizable furniture and design pieces, including room dividers and planters, starting at prices of USD$608 (EUR€500).

What is most important about this project, given the state of our collapsing ecosystem, is the circular nature of the materials used; however, from a market perspective, the fact that Aectual is focusing on individual AEC elements suggests it could succeed in the additive construction space and aid in the wider adoption of the technology. It seems that 3D printing makes the most headway in various industries not by trying to remake the entire segment, but by disrupting around the edges.

In that way, the regulations, cost, technological limitations, and overhead of 3D printing an entire house or car don’t prevent businesses from exploring the applications of the new technology. Instead, enterprises can purchase a 3D printed facade to test the possibilities before gradually working up to entire buildings once the technology has proven itself, costs have been reduced, and regulations have been determined.

And it may even be in the items that involve less 3D printing where Aectual sees the most growth at first, such as 3D printed flooring and formwork. The floors really are interesting to look at and lack the chintzy aesthetic of objects made entirely out of 3D printed plastic, while the formwork is likely very practical for actual construction applications. Regardless of where Aectual heads, we’re clearly seeing the additive construction industry begin to take off and it will be exciting to see where it is in just a few years.

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