Welcome to the future
India’s first 3D printed house was inaugurated earlier this year. Built inside the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras campus in Chennai, it has been developed by a startup founded by an alumni of the institute. Here’s how this new-age technology can revolutionise housing in India
India’s construction industry turned a new leaf on April 27, 2021, when Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs Nirmala Sitharaman inaugurated the country’s first 3D printed house through a virtual event. In India, there has always existed an evergreen need to infrastructurally support its increasing population. And considering the inflating price of construction, the success of the 3D printed houses has come as a ray of hope. However, since this technology is still in its nascent stages, it would be some time till it finds practicality in everyday solutions.
With ‘acceleration’ and ‘sustainability’ being the key mantras for driving major industries into the future, the balancing of the ever-increasing demand for capacity, material and skill seems to be the need of the hour across the globe. Such a shift in focus to adapt efficient methods, improve cost factors, reduce labour intensity, improvise on construction materials and energy, and minimise environmental pollution caused by construction waste, is now veritably pushing the construction industry frontiers to embrace innovation like never before. However, even across the globe, and specifically in India, the idea of construction welcoming technology with open arms is still in its germinal stage. The 3D printed house, envisaged by Tvasta Manufacturing Solutions, a start-up founded by alumni of IIT Madras, was developed in a bid to address these concerns. It also aims to change the narrative of the Indian construction industry with such home-grown technologies as ‘Concrete 3D Printing’ whereby the major pitfalls of the sector (such as burgeoning population, rampant urbanisation, increasing costs, long lead-times, heavy reliance on labour, wastage and pollution) can be overcome.
What’s CONCRETE 3D PRINT
Simply put, ‘Concrete 3D Printing’ is an automated manufacturing method for constructing three-dimensional real-life structures (at all realisable scales). The technique utilises a Concrete 3D Printer, which accepts a computerised two-dimensional design file from the user and fabricates a 3D structure in a layer-by-layer manner by extruding flowable material akin to concrete. In addition to developing the printer, Tvasta has also formulated the print material composition that goes into making a structure, the software that ‘talks’ to the printer, optimising its operation and enabling the realisation of physical designs, and application-specific printing strategies for various physical elements. The technology of ‘Concrete 3D Printing’ – a harmonious marriage of machine, material and software evolved from scratch by the company’s in-house think-tank – is an optimal alternative and a substantial tool that the construction industry can employ to level the playing field that the demand has set.
The biggest challenge in the construction of the 3D Printed House at IIT Madras was the onset of the global pandemic, which set back the construction activities by a significant time period. As per the initial plan, the construction of the house was to commence by March-April 2020, with its completion due in a month’s time. However, due to operations ceasing as per the lockdown restrictions in India, followed by major supply-chain disruptions, the physical construction of the 3D Printed House commenced only post the announcement of lockdown relaxations. Further, Cyclone Nivar in November 2020, flooded Chennai, throwing yet another wrench into the process. However, despite these bottlenecks, the team’s dedication and perseverance in seeing the 3D Printed House through ultimately resulted in its physical realisation on those green pastures of the IIT Madras Campus, Chennai. The construction of the 3D Printed House was completed in December 2020, within a span of one month from its commencement.
Being a technology-assisted endeavor, the 3D Printed House offers more in terms of practicality and livability as compared to a conventionally-constructed house, chief of which are listed below:
- Through Concrete 3D Printing, it is possible to customise houses even at scale at no additional cost. That is, designs and features of the structure may be chosen as per dweller utility and convenience. Mass customisation and special designs through traditional construction practices are innately expensive.
- Specific thermal conductance and acoustics for spaces can be achieved through 3D Printing in accordance with the end application. For example, in warm climates, cooler spaces can be built, eliminating the need for cooling equipment. Likewise, structures can be built for privacy with good acoustic retention by virtue of design. Conventional construction may not offer structures with spaces that are intrinsically warmer/cooler or public/private as per user requirement.
- In terms of structure itself, raw material mix designs may be suitably selected for 3D Printing walls and structures of different strengths (based on stresses and loads on the wall/structure). This ultimately results in creating more value for the structure, may enhance its overall life and may also result in cost reduction based on the end-application.
The key takeaway from the successful construction of a 3D Printed House in India is the fact that technological concepts such as ‘automation’ and ‘digitisation’ are very well within the achievable scope of the construction industry. Not only do these technologies supplement the industry’s normative activities such as fulfillment of constructing a structure, but may also offer other advantages like possible reduction in carbon footprint of the entire construction process, reduction in manual (unskilled) labour (this was particularly relevant during COVID-19 when a host of critical construction and civil projects suffered due to lack of labour) and potential reduction in construction cost. Furthermore, through automation, designs can be made for both performance and function, without having extra cost implications. This makes individual customisations and personalisation possible, event at scale, for all strata of society. The road ahead for the technology of Construction 3D Printing looks particularly exciting. As a nascent technology, with a guarantee of all-round results, especially suited for developing countries like India, it’s the growth trajectory is promising and is headed towards maximising benefits through further optimisations in the technology framework. Faster developments leading to major construction-time shrinkage, realisation of organic and parametric designs, possible reductions in construction cost by up to 30 per cent, utilisation of eco-friendly materials and the inevitable shift to earth-friendly/sustainable constructions, total energy optimisation pan construction processes, flexibility of technology usage for both ubiquitous and niche deployments, etc. are some of the other benefits that this technology may deliver in the future. It is notable that, despite being a fledgling technology, Construction 3D Printing has its foundation built on adoption-readiness and easy implementation. Therefore, what remains to be seen is how swiftly and efficiently we embrace this technology in its entirety.