WinSun is Back as Gaudi Tech and It’s 3D Printing Houses in the U.S.

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About a decade ago, a Chinese 3D printing company, Yingchuang Building Technique (WinSun), made enormous waves in the worlds of additive manufacturing (AM), construction, and beyond. Each headline WinSun made surpassed the last: “Chinese Firm 3D Prints 10 Homes in 24 Hours,” “WinSun 3D Prints 5-Story Apartment Building and Villa,” “World’s First Office Building 3D Printed in Dubai.”

Despite the impressive news stories, projects, and partners, the company seemingly went silent in recent years. Though it continued to push forward on projects, WinSun no longer seemed to pursue the same media attention. Meanwhile, the additive construction (AC) sector it was responsible for launching began to boom.

Now, as numerous AC firms, both startups and major corporations, populate the sector, WinSun is back, establishing a U.S. subsidiary called Gaudi Tech. To learn more, we spoke to WinSun and Gaudi founder Yihe Ma, as well as Gaudi’s Director of Partnerships, Lee Strelecki. To facilitate the conversation across the language barrier, Gaudi Tech CEO Ella Liu served as a translator between Ma and me.

From APAC and MENA to USA

“WinSun has focused on 3D printing construction technology for over 20 years,” Ma began. This in itself was a bold and important point, as there was once contention regarding exactly when AC was invented and by whom. Regardless of the details there, which are still up for debate, WinSun was ostensibly among the first to introduce its technology to the market.

Ma continued by explaining that, at the start, WinSun focused on the Chinese market before expanding to the Middle East, Japan, and Korea. Last year, Gaudi Tech was established in North America as an entirely U.S.-based company. According to Ma, the bureaucratic hurdles in the U.S. are actually less burdensome than in China.

“For U.S. markets, the standards are very clear. For raw materials, we passed the ASTM International test and then we found a local engineer who gets approval from the city,” Ma said. “Gaudi is registered in the U.S. It’s a completely American company. From the operations side, we don’t have any relationship with WinSun because Gaudi is only focused on the North American market.”

A building 3D printed using WinSun’s technology.

Because Gaudi is operationally independent from WinSun, it should be able to participate in the myriad government endeavors in the works for AC. In particular, Ma expressed an interest in helping the federal government address the issues facing the unhoused in the U.S.

“By using construction 3D printing technology, we can provide low-cost, affordable housing for the homeless. We believe we can help the government to solve this issue. That’s why I came to the U.S., to bring this technology to the world market. Gaudi is like the second start for my career,” Ma said.

Gaudi Tech’s Tech

Whereas, in the past, WinSun relied on a gantry system and produced concrete elements offsite, Gaudi has updated its approach with printers that can be easily moved using a 40-foot trailer and a pickup truck to be deployed onsite. According to the company, it only takes an hour to unfold it using a crane and get the machine up and running. Then, it takes just another hour to pack it up and move it elsewhere.

Right now, Gaudi has four models, two of which are released on the market. The first is the already-described mobile unit that is capable of 3D printing two-story buildings, while the second can print up to four floors. Those yet to be fully commercialized include an even smaller, more movable model and one that can produce buildings of up to 32 floors. This is so far unheard of in AC. In the last decade, WinSun had claimed to make a six-story apartment, while just recently, COBOD was involved in a four-story structure with an above-ground basement and traditionally made fifth level.

Gaudi Tech’s mobile 3D printer on site 3D printing at World of Concrete.

Gaudi Tech’s Ink

The Gaudi line of printers also combine raw material mixing and extrusion on site, which is another time and cost saver, according to Ma, because the mix doesn’t have to be shipped separately. Instead, 20 percent of Gaudi’s master batch, or “mother ink”—made up of a geopolymer blend with a binding agent—is combined with 80 percent local materials to create the printer’s “ink.” This is, in turn, beneficial for the environment, as it means fewer emissions related to transporting concrete. We’ve seen a similar approach with CEMEX’s D.fab admixture, but the accompanying batch mixer and pump is not attached to the same mobile system, as in the case with Gaudi.

“Compared with previous printers, this type of system can save 90 percent on costs, as well as time and labor, which can be passed onto the customer,” Ma said.

Specifically, Gaudi is able to get its material prices down to $300 per 2,000 lb down from $500 a few years ago. The low price is possible in large part because the firm is actually paid by recycling plants to take the waste materials that make up Gaudi’s mother ink. Moreover, the company is attempting to keep the costs of using its technology and materials steady in a sector marked by fluctuating and ever-increasing material costs.

Gaudi Tech’s Business

Perhaps most importantly of all is the fact that builders don’t actually purchase or even lease the Gaudi 3D printers. Rather, you buy the material.

“You get the printer for free. You buy 8M lb of our ink across the span of three years, and the printer’s completely free,” Strelecki explained. “You just get the ink as you need it. With our program, there isn’t the initial upfront half-a-million to one-million dollars that you need for most printers. It’s a bit like Xerox or a Keurig machine. The machines are more of a way of moving the product.”

During that three-year deal, it’s possible to upgrade machines as they’re developed. Ma said that this would allow builders, who he noted had traditionally gotten the short end of the stick, to profit in the AC industry, which is essential for the sector to advance.

Gaudi is just getting started stateside and now has four projects taking off in the U.S. One is for Gaudi’s own factory in Hesperia, California. Another is in Joshua Tree, and then there is a track of seven homes in Hesperia, as well. Because the firm isn’t focused on performing the construction work, it has to train its customers. Whereas some printer manufacturers execute a two- or six-week training program, Gaudi’s training process takes just one week.

“We feel that seven days is actually a little bit overkill for our machine. It’s very easy to operate and very easy to understand. We will come to you, or you can come to us,” Strelecki said. “It’s live training. We’re not doing PowerPoint presentations and sitting you down. We’re just out, operating the machine. You’re pressing the buttons, you’re running the machine, and you’re actually printing something.”

A lot of Gaudi Tech’s promises sound like a fairy tale: essentially a “free” and easy-to-use printer that can be moved anywhere and begin printing with local materials with only a week of training. When we reached out to industry experts, they saw WinSun as an enigma with sensational claims. However, if Yihe Ma, Ella Liu, Lee Strelecki can deliver on those promises, they won’t only shakeup the nascent AC sector, but construction as a whole.

“WinSun is the only company capable of profiting from 3D printing projects for other companies. Others may profit from the printers or raw materials, but we can profit from the projects. You’ll find that our printer’s price is extremely low, the lowest in the world. Additionally, we have a commitment to all our partners: if you partner with us, we will open all databases, the software, the previous software database, and also future updates. Everything is open to our partners,” Ma concluded. “Our business model is such that we do not make money from the printers; if you buy materials from us, you get a printer for free. This is why we have adopted this model: we want our partners to profit from 3D printed projects. That is our goal, our target.”

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