Sep 21, 2016 | By Alec

A load-bearing post 3D printed by XtreeE and assembled by Fehr Architectural, with a height of 4 meters (about 13 feet), being used to support the playground roof of a middle school in Aix-en-Provence in France.

As the material and financial benefits of construction 3D printing are becoming increasingly apparent, more and more startups are experimenting with huge concrete 3D printers. Especially in China this concept has taken flight, where companies like WinSun are already 3D printing entire homes, apartments and courtyards. But other parts of the world are not far behind. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is also looking into 3D printed homes, while Swiss construction giant LafargeHolcim has just realized a very important step towards 3D printed buildings as well. Together with French startup XtreeE, they have just successfully 3D printed Europe’s first structural element in concrete – paving the way for anything from homes to office blocks.

This breakthrough is unusual in at least one respect. By and large, small startups are the ones pushing the concrete 3D printing wagon, while most established construction companies are still waiting for the research results to come in. LafargeHolcim is one of the exceptions to this rule, as they are an absolutely gigantic construction company, with over 100,000 employees present in 90 countries around the world. In 2015, LafargeHolcim achieved combined net sales of CHF 29.5 billion (about $30 billion USD). They also cover the complete spectrum of construction work, from urban homes to trendsetting architecture.

However, LafargeHolcim is also a company that is constantly looking to innovate, and they can boast about having the world’s largest construction materials R&D center, with more than 200 employed researchers and a portfolio of 1,750 patents. This focus brought them in touch with 3D printing. Specifically, they see 3D printing as a tool for building complex geometric structures at high speeds and at a reasonable cost. In fact, they are already looking to bring the technology to three specific market segments: high value-added architecture, individual, affordable homes, and the production of prefabricated building components.

 

To gain access to the necessary expertise, they set up a partnership with French startup XtreeE, which is known for developing large-scale concrete 3D printing systems. And the fruits of that partnership have already been harvested, as the collaborators managed to build Europe’s first concrete 3D printed structural element.

Of course this would’ve been impossible without the expertise of XtreeE, which has only been around since July 2015. Over the past year, they have focused on the integration of digital technologies into architectural and construction practices through consulting, manufacturing, and new technologies. Their custom 3D printing robot has been developed with help from ABB, Dassault Systèmes (of SolidWorks) and LafargeHolcim, and can already 3D print various raw concrete materials.

The element itself was 3D printed in LafargeHolcim’s R&D center in L’Isle d’Abeau near Lyon, France. Leveraging their technological and material expertise, they 3D printed a 4 meter tall load-bearing post, that can support the playground roof for a middle school in Aix-en-Provence. The post (hollow and filled with Ductal) is technically Europe’s first structural element and has been assembled by Fehr Architectural. A more complex pavilion for the Ile-de-France regional government, developed in collaboration with Dassault Systèmes and ABB, is also on the 3D printing agenda.

As LafargeHolcim’s Group Head of Growth & Innovation Gérard Kuperfarb explained, these advances will greatly help the company’s efforts to bring innovative solutions to their clients. “Innovation is part of our DNA in order to respond to the trends in tomorrow’s construction market,” Kuperfarb, said. “We are therefore proud to be positioned as a pioneer in 3D printing, a revolutionary technique that brings greater accuracy while considerably reducing construction times.”

So what’s next for LafargeHolcim? While the company did not go into detail, it is expected that their collaboration with xTreeE will continue to grow. And that company is currently looking to realize France’s first 3D printed house through multi-scale material 3D printing. LafargeHolcim will doubtlessly support that effort as well, so we could be reporting on Europe’s first 3D printed house in the very near future.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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