3D printing’s journey from a novel idea to a startling actual technology and then taking over the world by storm is quite amazing. It has proven to be everything that it was claimed to be and then some more. When you look at countries that have shown most interest in 3D printing, Singapore is among the top. It features one of the most 3D-printing involved industry. The country has made 3D printing a top priority and has multiple large centers and organizations that are solely dedicated to 3D printers and 3D printing. We have the Global Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster that is being led by experts from Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Another part of the NTU involved with 3D printing is the Singapore Center for 3D Printing that is currently working on one of the most daring tasks ever undertaken by 3D printing; 3D printed public housing.
It is stated again and again that the construction industry is the industry that will benefit the most from 3D printing, however, that doesn’t seem to be happening. There’s a perfectly logical reason for that; people would prefer living in buildings and using structures that have been built using construction techniques that are reliable and tested over decades instead of opting for a rather new and unproven technique. Would you be comfortable living in a building that was 3D printed? Yeah, you had to think for a while before you probably mumbled; yeah, maybe. Safety is the most important concern in construction and rightly so. However, that doesn’t imply that one shouldn’t explore and improve or come up with better and new techniques of construction. New techniques, after testing, must be implemented to reap the associated benefits. 3D printing has finally started taking a hold in construction industry and we’ve seen temporary 3D printed office spaces along with 3D printed bridges. A number of organizations are coming up with techniques of 3D printing major structural elements and coining up creative ideas pertaining to 3D printed walls and interior design elements.
Having said all that, the idea of a 3D printed high-rise building still chills us a little. Although it renders itself as a viable and reliable construction method in various forms, it still is new and these are uncharted waters. Living in such a building, thousands of feet above the ground, surely will take a lot of guts and belief but that’s exactly what Singapore Center for 3D Printing wants to check out.
According to Professor Chua Chee Kai, Center’s Executive Director, the basic idea is to print out the building one story at a time and then have the 3D printed story brought to the construction site where it is stacked on top of one another like LEGOs. This fabrication method, similar to playing with LEGOs, is known as ‘Prefabricated Pre-Finished Volumetric Construction’ and has already been employed for building 3 new resident halls at NTU with the slight twist that the stackable modules were built using rather conventional construction techniques.
Coming back to the public housing building; it won’t be completely 3D printed but the major structural components are slated to be 3D printed. The Center is working in collaboration with a private company for testing the idea before it will be presented to government agencies later this year. If all goes well, a prototype shall be developed within three years. Before that, however, some really big 3D printers will have to be created – big enough to be able to 3D print major structural components of the building.
Professor Chua said, “In the area of housing there are quite big challenges. There is no assistance of 3D printers and no availability of printable concrete. We have to develop all this from scratch.”
The Center is also researching on the potential of using 3D printing for military applications along with various healthcare applications.