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Printing houses with 'wonder' 3D technology!
Published on: Sunday, August 13, 2017

By Kan Yaw Chong
DARWIN'S "Survival of the Fittest" may no longer be valid in this digital age.

Rather, it's going to be "Survival of the Most Responsive to Change", aptly noted Datuk Gerald Goh – a session Chairman on Digital Economics at the Shareda CEO Roundtable Conference themed "Survival, Sustainable, Succession" held at Sutera Megellan on Aug 10, with Datuk Sr Chua Soon Ping as the organising chairman.

Goh captured the gist of Dr Chew Cheng Sim's afternoon session paper, warning that a "planet of the robots" with rapid advances in digital technology will wipe out many time-honoured businesses and professionals which fall behind time, unless they transform themselves as fast as the technological changes. One of the stunning game changers cited by Dr Chew in the construction industry is the arrival of a fast-evolving reality of the amazing 3D digital printing technology which literally printed a five-stoey villa in China's Suzhou Industrial Park in a matter of five days at a fraction of the cost: $161,000! "What can 3D printing do?" Dr Chew asked, in the midst of his presentation entitled "How Digital Economy Affects Properties".

"It can do a lot of wonders. It can print a house!" said Dr Chew, who is the Executive Director of Asean Service Providers' Confederation.

Answer to the burning question: Can I afford a house?

The upside of these "wonders" may well mean everyone can eventually afford a house – a burning issue which now vex the next generation of young people who fret over how they can ever overcome the existing explosive cost of houses.

The downside is a warning to developers that if they don't acquire or learn how to use an incredibly smart digital construction technology which appears to offer massive advantages, they will not survive, they will eventually go out of business, in the same way that digital technology may one day make accountants, auditors, lawyers etc redundant, he said.

Dr Chew's eye opening video from China Chew proceeded to show an eye-opening video which provided a close peep into a cutting edge giant 3D printer at work on this frontier issue.

What it shows is the technological frontiers are moving forward at a breakneck speed, catching many in deep slumber and, therefore, cannot cope.

This is going to be true in the property industry.

As a novice to this jaw-dropping technology in construction, I saw for the first time a computer-aided software controlled extruder arm pressing out a mixture of tailings and other materials much like how a baker might ice a cake, laying down multiple layers of these materials on top of each other that created the part of this 3D printed villa – a five-storey apartment building claimed to be the tallest 3D printed building in the world, by 2015.

Giant 3D printer does it The technology is a giant 3-Dimensional printer standing at 20ft high, 33ft wide and 132ft long (6.6m x 10m x 40m).

By feeding the design of the villa into this giant printing machine, the video showed how the five-storey 1,100sq metre building was constructed one floor per day and completed in just five days, using recycled construction waste materials and cost only $161,000!

All that is made possible by a proprietary giant printing machine invented by Ma Yihe.

This world attention-grabbing wonder has prompted many to say this could be a game changer for the construction industry.

Fast, cost-effective for all brackets of income earners As a commentator Patrick Feeney in the video said: "I think this technology is going to change the way buildings are going to be built.

"It's going to be attractive to all income brackets. Low-income brackets for getting something quick and something they can be proud of, something that look nice and for upper-income brackets, they can have something more complex…"

At the end of video, Dr Chew noted the inevitable: "So you got a new technology to build houses – 3D printing – more or less like pre-fabrication but the wonderful thing is you can build a five-storey building in five days.

One floor per day, which is really fast, really cheap and use recycled materials, so it's green!"

"Green" because the use of recycled materials decreases the need for quarried stones and other materials, producing a construction method that is both environmentally-friendly and cost-effective.

For instance, it is claimed that this process saved 30 to 60 per cent of construction wastes, reduced production time between 50 to 70 per cent and saved labour cost by 50 to 80 per cent to produce a villa that cost only $161,000.

How the Shanghai-based technology works The 3D printer uses a mixture of ground construction and industrial wastes, with glass, tailings around a base of quick drying cement mixed with special hardening agent.

At the forefront of this technology is Shanghai-based WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Company which fabricates the parts in large pieces at its WinSun facility, as Dr Chew correctly pointed out.

The structures are then assembled on-site, complete with steel reinforcements and insulation as they must comply with the official building standards.

As seen from the video, the walls are printed hollow with zig-zagging patterns inside apparently to provide reinforcement and space for insulation.

As Dr Chew noted, the evolving technology "can do a lot of wonders".

Promising wonders The obvious wonder is, it is able to create entire structures out of multiple materials including concrete.

It can reduce the cost of owning a house by a long shot and makes repairs to damages less costly, it seems.

It promises to be an incredible and efficient way to build a house, saves a high percentage of construction wastes and labour cost.

The question is whether the technology can do much larger scale construction, such as bridges and sky scrappers with similar cost and speed advantages.

So far it hasn't happened but it is not hard to imagine they are working hard to deliver that eventual outcome.

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