AMS Spring 2023

3D Printed School and Tiny House Set Additive Construction Precedents for COBOD

6K SmarTech

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COBOD, the Danish additive construction (AC) firm, is known not only for its consistency and precision, but equally so for the innovative projects that its technology allows its customers to achieve. Against the backdrop of GE Additive’s recent move to become an investor in the company, two new builds that COBOD customers have completed highlight exactly what sets the company apart in the AC sector.

First, Thinking Huts, a non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on deploying AC to build schools, completed its first solo project, in the city of Fianarantsoa, Madagascar. Thinking Huts was founded in 2015 by recent college graduate, Maggie Grout, when she was only 15 years old.

Previously, in 2021, the NGO also collaborated with 14Trees — a joint venture between Swiss cement giant Holcim and British International Investment (formerly CDC Group), the UK government’s development finance arm — on the first 3D printed school, in Malawi. Now 22, Grout told the BBC that Thinking Huts plans on building another school, in a village also in Madagascar. As with the Malawi build, Thinking Huts’ pilot project in Madagascar also relied on COBOD’s BOD2 printer.

Danish startup 3DCP Group built the other project, a tiny house in Holstebro, Denmark. At only 37 square meters, or just under 400 sq. ft., the home was designed for student living by the cutting-edge Danish firm, Saga Space Architects. It was also built using a BOD2.

In a press release, Saga Space Architects’ co-founder, Sebastian Aristotelis, explained, “Our task was to…[make a house with] all the rooms and functionalities of a normal house, but be so low cost, that even students could afford to live in it. We solved the task by…still giving the inhabitants the feeling of a large open area in the middle.” 3DCP Group’s CEO, Mikkel Brich, added, “COBOD’s innovative 3D construction printing technology makes it possible to print with real concrete, increase efficiency and significantly reduce the man-hours used in construction. We could not have realized the design using any other method.”

In addition to being Europe’s first 3D printed tiny home, the other, even more exciting thing about the 3DCP Group build is the roof. Typically, in the so far quite limited history of the sector, the roofs of 3D printed homes have been built using conventional methods. Saga Space Architects’ design, on the other hand, included a printed roof, achieved by producing five separate panels off-site, which were then lifted and casted together at the time of the build, as shown in the video below. Another notable and unusual aspect of the project, as noted in the above quote from Brich, was the use of real concrete, which helped reduce costs.

Even more than its share of the market, the range of builds its customers produce is what makes COBOD stand out. The above-mentioned investment in COBOD by GE Additive followed on the heels of COBOD’s successful design and implementation of the world’s largest 3D construction printer — or “multifunctional construction robot”, as COBOD CEO Henrik Lund-Nielsen likes to say — at GE’s new 3D printing construction R&D facility. Coupled with the company’s experience in office buildings and schools, and now tiny homes, it’s undeniable that COBOD’s technology is truly modular.

Finally, student living seems like a perfect way to help get the sector up to scale, especially when you consider the potential public money involved. And, not that they’re the first company in the world to have 3D printed tiny homes, but I still think 3DCP Group is onto something in this case, because tiny homes of this particular size that optimize space would actually be a step up in most cases from current dorm living. 3D printed homes are still far from being less expensive than conventionally built homes, but it’s also still highly possible that they eventually will be. When you combine it with other factors like tiny home design and government grants, it’s not unreasonable to think it could happen sooner rather than later.

Images courtesy of COBOD

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