The idea of 3D-printing our buildings is nothing new. Faced with a desperate need to construct more homes faster, and in a more efficient way – countless innovators have found themselves drawn by the idea of being able to quickly print a structure and have spent years trying to scale the technology. But for all their efforts, that 3D-printed world has proven elusive and many impressive prototypes have struggled to become viable for mass-production. But things have just taken a massive step forward in Germany with the completion of the first-ever 3D-printed home to become fully certified under a national government’s building regulations.
The impact of this moment for construction and for the buildings we all use could be huge. With the promise of cutting waste, reducing time on site and addressing labour shortages, some see 3D-printing as the answer to many of our world’s challenges. Originally used for small-scale prototypes, advances in 3D printing technology have led to the creation of full-scale structures like bridges and homes, and even proposals for mankind’s first martian base. But while 3D-printed structures have appeared around the world – from Canada and The Netherlands to Dubai; which wants to 3D-print a quarter of its new buildings by 2030 – the technology is yet to take off as a widespread building technique. But the completion of this 3D-printed house in Beckum, Germany, is set to change everything. Developed by leading formwork and scaffolding firm PERI, experts in its Disruptive Products and Technologies department and its project partners, the structure, a detached single-family property, is the first 3D-printed house in Germany – and offers 160 square metres of living space across its two storeys. Critically, the structure is the first 3D-printed building in Germany to become certified with a national building accreditation, smashing a major barrier and paving the way for larger, more complex projects. Located just outside the city of Ulm, PERI’s team is now working on the largest 3D-printed multi-family house in Europe with 380 square metres of living space divided into five apartments across three levels. So how did PERI get into the world of 3D printing? Here at PERI we have a think tank – a department called Disruptive Products and Technologies – and they think about products and technologies that might substitute our current core products or that might endanger our business model. In this department various ideas are always thrown around and actively pursued, so it’s not just a monitoring department. One of the topics even years ago was 3D construction printing. When we built up the printer on the construction site – directly on the site – and we started printing there, that was a moment for me where I realised that we are printing that on site and people will live there. That for me was a moment where I said
‘Wow, this is not just theory, it’s not just in a lab, it could happen for real’. The homes were both built with COBOD’s modular BOD 2 printing system – a flexible platform that can be scaled to suit projects of varying size. The printer needs just two operators and takes less than 48 hours to set-up on-site. Once up and running, the system can print as fast as a metre per second using data from integrated design models. There are a lot of firms around the world that will have done this, a lot of research teams that have 3D-printed buildings over the years and there have been different levels of excitement around it. Why isn’t it widespread? Why isn’t it just the way that we build all of our buildings? 3D-printing really affects the overall construction process. It has an impact on the planning side, the execution of the walls but also on other trades and the planning and permitting – all of these things come into play here. The buildings that we’ve seen across the globe actually have seen a steady increase in, let’s say, validity. The first ones have basically been big 3D-printed flower pots where all the other trades have been thrown in there but nobody has thought about how to integrate it into a full construction process.
Maybe sometimes in the news and media it’s always been portrayed like everything was perfect but obviously this has been a steady learning curve and now we feel that we have hit another milestone where we’ve now been able to execute these permitted buildings. What PERI have done in Germany with this building – how is that different to what we’ve seen before in Dubai, The Netherlands and many other places? We wanted to do real-world, architectural-scale permitted residential buildings. We’ve done lots and lots of tests to get this German building permit and we have one of the toughest building codes around so that’s quite a milestone to get these completely normally permitted residential homes – and that I think is where the core difference lies. I have included project partners from the start. We are working directly with construction companies, we are working directly with architects, which don’t want to make just a demo project – it’s a real project where later people will live in. It’s a project where the investors get rents out every month so it’s something which will be used and the other thing I guess is the speed and the size. Now it’s actually the biggest 3D-printed building in Europe. PERI also engaged a number of the core trades on these projects; a critical hurdle that few other 3D-printed buildings have attempted to cross. With services and other works already coordinated with the structural design, errors on site have been almost completely eradicated – saving time, money and waste material. While the savings may be modest here, they’d soon add up across an entire estate or housing development. What kind of real-world savings have you seen on this project so far? This integration of other trades has a huge impact. We’ve had an electrician come into one of these buildings and he says ‘Well guys, I’ll be saving up to 12 days in here.’ So we are saving a lot of labour in other trades because in the buildings we are executing there is not going to be a single slot that has to be cut, nobody’s going to have to drill a hole for a power outlet. Though the design of these buildings may feel relatively straight-forward when compared to some of today’s architecture, the team are using the lessons learned to construct larger structures in a variety of forms. With German building certifications now under their belt, the team are planning more projects using different materials and with a focus on further reducing waste. But, while there is cause for optimism, we’re still some way from the widespread uptake of 3D-printing and several challenges remain – not least breaking into a traditionally conservative industry. Securing German building certification is a huge step for you guys and a huge step for the world of 3D-printing. What other barriers and challenges are on the way between where we are now and this being the way we build our homes, buildings, offices. It’s a lot about educating people, really. It’s a different type of planning a building – it’s different for the contractor, it’s different for the electrician, it’s different all around for everybody involved. So all these trades have to learn how to cope with this technology and how to make the best of it – not be threatened by it but to see the potential it can have for these individual trades in making their lives easier and making construction more safe and more efficient. There’s definitely a spot for all the other conventional construction techniques who are also evolving. 3D-printing will play a very important role – we’re very convinced of that – but this education and diffusion process into the market will still take some time. Would you live in a 3D-printed house? Of course! Right away – I’d be all over the design of that. Just having round shapes, which are also way more sustainable than the weird rectangles that we build right now. We’ve tested all of it so we know it’s very, very stable. While the technology has had its challenges, the success of PERI’s project in Germany marks a major step forward and will stand as a powerful case study for innovators – rekindling the determination to make this building technique viable at scale. That 3D-printed world we’ve imagined has just moved one huge step closer to becoming real. This video was made possible by PERI – learn more at the link below. And as always, if you’ve enjoyed this video and would like to get more from the definitive video channel for construction, subscribe to The B1M.