As exciting as 3D printed homes are, particularly when part of a feel-good story, it is the industrial applications of the technology that may represent the maturity of the additive construction (AC) sector. This is made evident with the completion of Europe’s largest 3D printed building, the Wavehouse data center in Germany, which is described as the first of its kind in the industrial and data center sectors globally.
Developed by Kraus Group, with participation from architecture firms Mense-Korte and SSV, this single-story facility is situated in the Baden-Württemberg region of Heidelberg. It took the PERI Group, an investor in AC firm COBOD, about 140 hours to complete the nearly 600-square-meter building using a BOD2 3D printer. According to the companies involved, about 450 tons of printing concrete, provided by Heidelberg Materials, were used. This material is described as both 100% recyclable and featuring a binder capable of achieving a 55% CO2 reduction compared to traditional Portland cement.
Building Leaders Serious about Construction 3D Printing
Founded in 1874, Heidelberg Materials is a €21.095 billion company, with 57,000 employees working at 3,000 production sites across 60 countries. This puts it on par with COBOD investor and materials company Holcim and somewhat ahead of COBOD investor and materials company CEMEX, as well as Swiss AC backer and materials company Sika. All are less than half the size of the €51.2 billion French materials giant Saint-Gobain, which is pursuing AC through its Weber Beamix subsidiary. There are only some of the leading construction businesses exploring the technology, but they are representative enough to demonstrate just how serious the sector has become.
What’s also interesting is the overlap by these firms in the AC space. As noted, several are COBOD investors, while both PERI Group and Sika have backed another construction 3D printing startup, Mesh AG. The technology of COBOD and Mesh are complementary, in that Mesh can 3D print steel reinforcement for 3D printed buildings, such as those made with COBOD’s machines. However, one would think of Sika, Holcim, and CEMEX as competitors. Obviously in global business, multinational corporations share much in common and similar goals in terms of “growing the pie,” but the extent to which these frenemies can coexist investing in the same startup is difficult to foresee.
Construction 3D Printing and Infrastructure, Growing Together
The Wavehouse will be operated by Heidelberg iT Management, a local cloud and data center provider with a history dating back to 2001. The center is expected to offer 500kW of power and accommodate around 100 racks. While the facility’s 3D printed shell has been completed, the total job is expected to be finished by the end of the summer.
While the Wavehouse is a more traditional form of data center, EdgeCloudLink in the United States plans to pursue the construction of hydrogen-powered, off-grid modular data centers built using 3D printing. The market for data center construction is massive, with some analysts projecting a seven percent growth from $250.4 billion in 2023 to $270.07 billion in 2024. This makes sense given the growing need for servers in general, thanks to such technologies as artificial intelligence and cloud computing.
In order to keep up with demand, builders will likely turn increasingly to AC as a means of constructing these structures more quickly, while also demonstrating the ability of 3D printing to make facilities that can meet the requirements of data centers in terms of cooling and structural integrity. This trend would complement other infrastructure projects that AC will certainly play a role in, such as new rail systems, power generation, disaster relief, and general construction.
All images courtesy of Heidelberg Materials.
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