Dubai companies eye 2025 start for 3D printed homes projects

Emirate plans to have 25 per cent of all new buildings 3D printed by 2030

Inside a 3D-printing construction firm in Dubai

Inside a 3D-printing construction firm in Dubai
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Dubai's plans to have a quarter of all new buildings 3D printed by 2030 are moving closer to becoming reality with specialist local companies talking to contractors and developers to incorporate the cost-efficient technology into their future projects.

3DXB, which recently built the world's largest 3D-printed villa in Dubai, as well as US-based developer of 3D printing construction AC3D that launched Dubai operations last year, say projects could start as early as 2025 as negotiations progress.

The construction industry, typically cautious about adopting new technology, has been extra slow to warm to 3D printing.

It is doable by 2030. We are talking about 3,000 villas yearly, which will need a maximum of 400 printers, which we can produce from next year
Badar Al Blooshi, 3DXB

Offering a quicker and cheaper method of building new homes, the widespread use of 3D printing could have more far-reaching benefits than merely achieving Dubai's 2030 buildings targets.

Beyond the UAE borders, the technology could also help to solve housing crises around the world and provide quick-build homes in disaster-hit areas, said Boris Kozlov, founder and chief executive of AC3D.

Reducing the use of concrete, one of the highest emitters of CO2 in the world, is another major win for the construction industry, he added.

While both companies have successfully built structures, they are in a proof-of-concept stage during which they will show developers the benefits of adopting 3D printing.

Cheaper and faster

Shortly after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy in 2016, the first fully functional 3D-printed building opened that same year. It is now the main office of The Dubai Future Foundation.

Dubai Municipality built the largest 3D-printed two-storey building for its Centre for Innovation in 2019 and a villa, built by Danish company Cobod for Dubai developer Emaar opened in its Arabian Ranches 3 project.

And, more recently, 3DXB built the world's largest villa in Al Awir 1.

The villa took 180 hours to print, with total build time for the project spanning six months, said Badar Al Blooshi, chairman of 3DXB.

"It took six months because it was the first one," Mr Al Blooshi told The National. "The foundations are conventional and the roofs are conventional, so we are talking about the walls to be 3D printed.

"The target is four months, from the moment we start until the moment we deliver the house. The time saving is with the wall section, where we see a 40 per cent time-saving."

The overall costs are about 15 per cent to 20 per cent cheaper than a conventionally built building, he said.

Mr Kozlov, who has been involved in additive 3D printing for about a decade, turned to 3D construction printing after realising the speed and cost advantage it offers developers across the board.

AC3D, which also supplies 3D printing machines, is currently building structures to show developers what can be done and recently completed a small unit – 10 feet tall and 200 square feet in size.

"It took us 10 hours to print it and it was far from maximum speed. So technically, we know we could do it in, like, six hours," he said.

"As for bigger buildings like single-storey family houses, the job of 3D printer can be done really fast. The frame of the wall can be done in days, definitely."

Both AC3D and 3DXB say the quality of the mix they use is better and stronger than traditional blocks.

In 2021, authorities in Dubai approved regulations for the 3D printing of buildings that require companies to register with Dubai Municipality and obtain a licence.

Trakhees, the regulatory body of the Ports, Customs, and Free Zone Corporation, recently announced the first licence for construction using 3D printing technology for buildings in Dubai being issued to Nakheel for its Al Furjan Hills project. The Dubai developer built a gatehouse at its Tilal Al Furjan development using 3D printing.

Andrew Pigott, technical director for modern methods of construction at WSP Middle East, says 3D printing is part of the industry's move to improve productivity, safety and efficiency.

"The introduction of regulation and technical standards related to the use of 3D printing in the construction field will likely drive an uptick in its use in a wider variety of applications," he said.

"With this, we expect to see more examples of 3D-printed construction coming into play."

Mr Kozlov says 3D printing will eventually be cheaper, removing the need for roles such as formwork creation and masonry and being able to integrate plumbing and electricity during the printing process.

"3D printing has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of the building process," Mr Kozlov said.

"3D eliminates a lot of labour and man hours because everything happens much faster and with fewer people. About three people are needed to build the frame of the house."

About 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the costs are printing material, which will come down once the volume of production grows, he added.

Talking to developers

Despite its obvious benefits, 3D construction printing has some way to go to become mainstream in the future.

The 3D construction printing market is expected to reach $2.5 billion in 2025, up from $500 million in 2023, but Mr Kozlov said that fewer than 200 homes have been built worldwide using 3D printing, with 100 of those in Texas.

"We think that if this year we can complete several pilot projects, then probably next year those will result in maybe five to 10 houses with a developer, and then it will go into 100 houses. It really takes time to build this momentum," Mr Kozlov said, adding that AC3D is in talks with "developers here in the UAE".

AC3D also supplies three types of 3D printing machines, the largest of which comes with a big gantry for onsite printing and costs between $500,000 and $1 million, depending on the specifications.

They can adjust to size and create smaller printers. For factory printing, where you print parts for modular construction, the machine costs between $250,000 and $500,000. The smallest machine, typically for laboratory grade or for universities, is priced at about $50,000 to $100,000.

3DXB will build its own printers in a new factory in Dubai and is working on building a further 12 villas plus an office building in Fujairah free zone that will be the biggest 3D structure in the world.

Mr Al Blooshi says he has received enquiries from individuals and some government entities for the local housing projects and is confident that the 2030 target can be met.

"I have already started speaking with a lot of construction companies and we might sign an agreement with some of them in Dubai," he said.

"It is doable by 2030. We are talking about 3,000 villas yearly, which will need a maximum of 400 printers, which we can produce from next year."

Green solution

Mr Kozlov said 3D printing can offer environmental benefits by removing concrete and using geopolymer, which is fire resistant and offers similar if not greater strength.

"Everybody speaks a lot about electric cars versus conventional-engine cars. I think that everybody's forgetting that 8 per cent of global CO2 emissions come from cement production," he said.

"If we want to make the construction material more sustainable, then we just need to eliminate cement from the concrete."

With a global shortage in housing due to a lack of workers, he said it could also help with solving housing shortages around the world.

"I think about 12 million houses a year are missing in the world and, because of Covid especially, there is another shortage of professional construction labourers and no one is becoming a construction worker," he said.

"There are so many disasters in the world [and with the shortage of labour] you need the technology to rebuild fast enough," he said.

Updated: March 05, 2024, 8:11 AM