Feb 10, 2016 | By Kira

Two years ago, 10 entirely 3D printed houses appeared practically overnight in Shanghai. It was later revealed that a company named WinSun was behind the ambitious project, and that they planned to continue pushing 3D printed construction to its limits: 3D printing entire buildings, villas, and multi-story apartments. While impressive (and later, controversial), that plan seemed to be more about showing-off what construction 3D printing could do than actually building livable houses for citizens.

Staying true to its moderate yet progressive national identity, Singapore has now announced plans to take a more levelheaded, if tentative, approach to 3D printed public housing as way to address its growing, and ageing, population’s needs.

A typical HDB public housing block in Singapore

The Singapore Centre for 3D Printing, part of the country’s National Additive Manufacturing Cluster (NAMIC), will be testing whether public housing, or at least some components of public housing buildings, could be 3D printed.

The idea is not to launch into the full-scale development of concrete 3D printed houses, but rather to test, one unit (or building story) at a time, the viability of 3D printing as a construction method. The units will be 3D printed in a factory and then transported to the construction site for assembly.

According to Professor Chua Chee Kai, Executive Director of the Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP), researchers at the centre are currently working with a 3D printing company to produce a testing strategy, and will formally propose the project to government agencies in Singapore this year. The first 3D printed house prototype could be expected within three years.

Professor Chua Chee Kai, Executive Director at Singapore Centre for 3D Printing

Though the construction industry is not usually one to dive headfirst into new technologies and methods, having been building houses in more or less the same way for decades, Singapore believes that due to its increasingly ageing population, it will need to find new construction methods that require less labor while increasing productivity. Construction 3D printing could be the answer.

Part of the Singaporean researchers’ pragmatic approach to 3D printed public housing is to map out which parts of the buildings could viably be 3D printed, and which would still require traditional construction methods. Indeed, while it may not be cost effective to 3D print 100% of the building units, the core structural components, which could be made from 3D printable concrete for example, are most likely to be explored, whereas plumbing and electrical facilities might not.

The SC3DP is also looking into developing its own 3D printable concrete, as well as dedicated large-format construction 3D printers.

3D printed concrete deposited by WinSun's construction 3D printer

Singapore has long been a scientific and technology hub within Asia, and has invested heavily in R&D and upcoming technologies. In 2013, Singapore invested $500 million in 3D printing specifically, and since then, has set up the Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (with US$107.7 million of funding), and a National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) to support the country's 3D printing infrastructure. Singapore is also home to the largest 3D printing facility in South East Asia.

In addition to 3D printed public housing, the SC3DP is also testing the viability of 3D printed weapons parts, as well as 3D bioprinted bones and other medical applications.

Despite being the third most densely populated country in the world, Singapore ranks number four on the list of countries by home ownership rate: a full 90% of citizens own their own homes thanks to a strong public housing initiative. Clearly, when it comes to public housing, the Lion City knows that it’s doing. So, when it announces plans to shake things up by incorporating 3D printing construction technology into the mix, the rest of the world might want to take note.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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