Probably the story we receive the most emails about and residual traffic from is the one we did about a Chinese company called Winsun. Winsun made major headlines twice over the last year alone, despite the fact that there is very little public information available about the company themselves. The first story broke in April of last year when they allegedly ‘3D printed’ 10 houses in a single day. Initially we wrote it off as an April Fools prank, as the news was in fact released on April 1st. Immediately upon hearing this story we became a bit skeptical. 10 houses in a day? Is that even possible? Once again there really wasn’t a whole lot of information online from the company about this process, and when we reached out for further evidence, they simply ignored our correspondence. Despite this, other media outlets ran with the story and the company never blinked an eye.
Once again in January of this year the same company came forward, this time with claims that they had 3D printed an entire 6-story apartment building along with an exquisite mansion. We reached out for additional details on how this was done, and once again no response.
It was a couple of months ago when I personally had the opportunity to interview Dr. Berok Khoshnevis, a man many would call the Grandfather of House Printing. He is the inventor of a process of 3D printing large structures called Coutour Crafting, and according to an interview he conducted with us plans to begin selling his machines within a year or two to construction companies around the world. Dr. Khoshnevis is a genius when it comes to both construction and 3D printing, at least as far as we are concerned. It was in our conversations with him that we realized what’s likely the truth behind Winsun, a company that Dr. Khoshnevis, as well as his former student Dr. Jing Zhang, is unfortunately all too familiar with.
In the interview we published with Dr. Khoshnevis back in March, he explained to us that Winsun has made several false claims and, even worse, stole his intellectual property. After we heard this we decided to dive a bit deeper into these allegations, contacting Dr. Khoshnevis’ student at the time Dr. Jing Zhang for his side of the story, recontacting Dr. Khoshnevis, and reaching out, unsuccessfully, to Winsun themselves.
Dr. Jing Zhang, who has worked extensively with Dr. Khoshnevis on his Contour Crafting technology, currently runs his own company, SprintRay, which produces SLA 3D printers for consumers and small businesses. Dr. Zhang is also in line to head up the Chinese branch of Contour Crafting once launched at a later date.
“Winsun’s CEO came to LA, saw our work, then invited me to his company, brought his materials and asked me to demonstrate the consistency needed for his material to work with Contour Crafting,” Dr. Khoshnevis informed 3DPrint.com. “Copying the idea is one wrong action but another wrong action was for him to claim in the media that he had the idea before me, when there is no evidence, official or unofficial, showing that this man ever did anything in 3D Printing of concrete (or any 3D printing) prior to 2014.”
In fact, Dr. Zhang informed us that Mr. Ma from Winsun actually had no idea about the capabilities of 3D printing until Zhang himself walked him through an Expo featuring the technology, in 2013:
“Prof. Khoshnevis gave my information to Mr. Ma and asked him to contact me when he came back to China,” Dr. Zhang explained to us. “I received a call from him around March or April. He told me that he was seeking an opportunity to work with Khoshnevis and hoped that I could connect the two of them (he couldn’t speak English). I went to Shanghai and met with him several times. In May 2013, I went to Beijing for the first 3D Printing Expo in China [Which Ma was also attending]. At that time, he had NO idea what 3D printing was at all. I walked him through the expo and spent a couple hours giving him some basic knowledge about 3D printing. He was very excited about it. Mr. Ma tried to persuade me to build a prototype of the [Countour Crafting] machine for him. I told him that I could only do that with Prof. Khoshnevis’ permission because he is the inventor of the technology. I also told him to have a meeting with Prof. Khoshnevis if he wants further cooperation.”
Obviously Dr. Khoshnevis did not give this permission to Winsun, but agreed to fly out to China and meet with Ma himself in August 2013. Ma, Dr. Khoshnevis, and Dr. Zhang all met to discuss possible cooperation. According to Dr. Zhang, Dr. Khoshnevis showed Ma some of his technology and how it worked. At this point Ma had promised to show the men a new method for pumping concrete which was taking place at Winsun’s factory. Later, however, excuses were made, with Ma telling the men that since they are foreign they were not permitted inside the facility according to company rules. At the end of the meeting Dr. Khoshnevis refused any sort of cooperation agreement, at which point Ma proposed one final joint venture offer, stating, according to Dr. Zhang, “I am going to build it or fake it anyway.”
Needless to say, no such partnership was ever formed, but Ma seems to be making good on his promise to Dr. Khoshnevis of faking it.
“I am surprised that so many individuals in the media have fallen into his story that he is the creator of 3D construction printing technology, with 12 years 3D printing experience, when instead he bought his very first MakerBot FDM machine in May 2013 (with me),” Dr. Zhang told us.
Basically what Winsun is allegedly doing is using technology and ideas which Ma was able to learn about from Dr. Khoshnevis’ visit to China. They are allegedly using these patented techniques in order to create their own subpar system. They aren’t 3D printing homes or apartment buildings. Instead they are printing small sections of walls, within their own facility using a very expensive 5-axis gantry system from Italy, which they then simply fit with a concrete pump. The extremely heavy walls then need to be loaded onto a truck, transported to a building site, and then offloaded and constructed. According to both Dr. Zhang and Dr. Khoshnevis, this technology, which doesn’t have a single patent backing it, is neither efficient nor revolutionary, and instead is much more expensive and inefficient than current manufacturing techniques.
As Dr. Khoshnevis continues his tireless work on rolling out his very own Contour Crafting platform within the next two years, and Dr. Zhang continues building upon his very own company, SprintRay (they intend to launch a Kickstarter campaign here very soon), Ma will likely continue to try to deceive the media in an attempt to perhaps garner investments and attention from a technology he had absolutely no experience working with just 23 months prior.
Let’s hear your thoughts on this story. Discuss in the 3D Printed House Wars forum thread on 3DPB.com.