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The new reality: 3D printers on building sites

21.07.2018
The new reality: 3D printers on building sites

 

How will the use of 3D technologies and robots change the construction industry? A large round table with the same name was held as part of the conference “Trends in architecture and construction technologies” at the exhibition WorldBuild Moscow/MosBuild 2018. After the round table, I met up with Alexander Maslov, General Director and Chief Designer of AMT-Specavia Group of Companies, a manufacturer of 3D construction printers. I asked him about the main development areas of this technology, the operating specifics of 3D construction printers and the materials that can be used.  

 

Alexander Maslov

 

WB365: What prompted you to start working in this area?

 

Alexander Maslov: It is all very simple. Our company was manufacturing machine tools with computer numerical control for the plasma arc cutting of the metal. As this market is extremely saturated with numerous manufacturers, we started to look for new niches. In the end we decided to focus on a cutting-edge and unconventional business – the production of 3D construction printers. 

 

WB365: How recently did you start making 3D printing equipment?

 

Alexander Maslov: Our company has already been working in this area for five years. During the first few years we came up with experimental models, conducted endurance tests and then launched batch production of construction printers. At present we have sold more than 70 3D construction printers. They are being used in Russia and also in eight other countries. 

 

The process of 3D printing, as the material used concrete. Photo from specavia.pro

 

WB365: How do you assess the current state of the 3D construction printing market? What technologies exist and are there any unconditional leaders?

 

Alexander Maslov: There is just the one technology — additive manufacturing, in other words, layered growth. It does not depend on the equipment used. At present globally there are approximately 50 working prototypes. However, our company is the only one to have launched mass production – portable construction printers.  As to your question about the state of additive construction technology at present, let me just give you the following example: three years ago nobody took it seriously - people just laughed. Now that major construction companies and precast concrete factories are buying our equipment, I would say that this technology has already found a niche in industrial production.

 

Details of the future house. Photo from specavia.pro 

 

Alexander Maslov: Although too few projects have been fully implemented using 3D printing, several houses have already been built. Furthermore, they have been built, as they put it, “smartly” — some projects have been done - specific materials were laid, structural analysis was performed, and seismic and heat capacity calculations were performed. These projects have undergone expert reviews. The buildings have been commissioned, and accepted for cadastral registration. The technology is alive and well. It actually works and does not differ in any way from other construction technologies, and naturally I am delighted with this outcome.

 

A fragment of the facade of the building, "printed" using a 3D printer. Photo from specavia.pro

 

WB365: You said that your company is the only mass producer of construction printers. Admittedly at present we are talking about low-volume production. Why don't your colleagues in the sector also make the transition to mass production? Or are they still looking for the optimal form of the equipment?

 

Alexander Maslov: First of all, some enterprises focusing on this issue are only just starting out. They have begun resolving these challenges and simply have not reached the necessary level. Secondly, companies have other goals: not the production of equipment, but rather fundamental research, as, for example, the American company Contour crafting, or the provision of services as in the case of Winsun from China. However, I think that the main reason why we still don’t have any competitors is that none of them is patient enough to bring prototypes to the level of industrial equipment. 

 

Our company is relatively small, but is ”crazy” in a good sense. We assessed this activity as promising, and invested significant funds at our own risk and peril. So we were the first to benefit. 

 

Photo from specavia.pro

 

WB365: What materials can printers work with now? Everybody knows about concrete. However, how about brick, for example? Or liquid cellulose for the construction of houses that have the attributes of wooden houses?

 

Alexander Maslov: Brick is not a material that can be extruded through the spinneret of the printer. In general, everyone works with concrete. However, our printers create print models not only with concrete, but also with other materials: gypsum and clay. The chemical compound of a material is irrelevant. The key for the printer is the physical characteristics of the mixture to be extruded. For example, there should be no grains bigger than 2-3 mm. In addition, certain characteristics in viscosity, castability and mobility should be observed.

 

 

Let me just reiterate that the printer can print with any compound. For example, if a cellulose-based material convenient for printing were to appear, the printer would easily create models. In actual fact, for the time being cellulose composites cannot be used, as structurally these are not mixes, but rather gels. They display completely different attributes when drying. 

 

Meanwhile mixes – regardless of their contents – should not shrink or crack when drying. They should not contract and should not be deformed – mixes should remain unchanged when they dry up. In actual fact for the time being all cellulose-based materials remain a dream for people keep to develop this area. All the more so as the material must be cheap if we seriously intend to build houses. Clearly we also need to process secondary raw materials: any types of twigs or chips. Researching this area is a very costly enterprise. For the time being nobody has seen this business through to its completion – at the very least, I don't know of a compound that is suitable for work.

 

The process of building a house using a 3D printer. Photo from specavia.pro

 

WB365: You said that several houses built using your equipment had already received permits and have been universally recognised, granted as it were “civic rights”, if we can talk about houses in this way houses. However, what happens if construction regulatory documents don’t keep pace with the development of 3D construction technologies. If they don’t exist, how will the absence of such documents affect the industry?

 

Alexander Maslov: There are no regulatory documents for construction additive technology. You won’t find them anywhere globally. I believe that such a document will appear in Russia thanks to our efforts, and also thanks to cooperation with the standardisation committee. People have been working on this issue for two years now. However, you have to understand that we are a small company and we don’t have the resources to work on creating national standards unlike big corporations.

 

The details printed by 3D printer. Photos from specavia.pro

 

WB365: Do you think that it is already time to put on the agenda the establishment of a National Union of Builders working with 3D technologies? For it is usually thanks to the resources of such industry associations that specialised standards are developed …

 

Alexander Maslov: One of the 3D printing pioneers came up a similar idea - Andrey Rudenko, a Russian engineer, who has worked for several years in the U.S. At some point he was the first in Minnesota to build a miniature castle, and several years ago – a hotel room in the Philippines. At some point he had the idea of uniting us all in one company, organising symbiosis and obtaining synergies, which would enable this technology to move forward in leaps and bounds. However, I cannot imagine how, after gathering at a round table and drinking tea, we would disclose our professional innovations to each other. I believe this idea at the current development stage is a little utopian. At present developers have too much confidential data, and nobody wants to use their own resources to create new competitors. 

 

House, printed by 3D-printer. Photos from specavia.pro

 

Regarding cooperation on preparing a national standard, in Russia all companies know each other more or less and communicate on this topic, exchange information and opinions. In addition, any state standard is subject to a public debate. This means that as soon as a draft standard appears, all the interested structures will be able to participate in work on this standard.

 

I cannot give you a specific date. However, I hope that at the end of 2018 we will see a national standard for 3D construction printing, and that subsequently our technologies and equipment will really show everybody what they are capable of. 

 

 

We look forward to seeing you in 2019 at MosBuild 2019 at Crocus Expo. In order to book a stand comlete the online form.

 

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