A joint venture in Africa is 3D printing buildings, and it appears to be a service designed for expansion.
The project was undertaken by LafargeHolcim in partnership with CDC Group. LafargeHolcim is one of the world’s largest providers of concrete, based in Switzerland, and UK-based CDC Group is a development financial institution that is operated by the UK government. The two organizations created “14Trees”, a joint venture specifically for 3D printing buildings in Africa.
The first project took place in Lilongwe, Malawi, where a school’s walls were quickly 3D printed using the increasingly-popular BOD 2 construction 3D printer. COBOD says the walls were completed in only 18 hours, which is pretty quick.
However, I should note that the 3D printing part of the project involves only the concrete walls, as the remainder of the structure must be built using conventional approaches. That includes windows, doors, flooring, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, etc.
I point that out because of LafargeHolcim’s video, which says:
“We have printed a house in Malawi in less than 12 hours.”
That’s not entirely honest, as only the walls were 3D printed. Nevertheless, it is certainly an advantage over conventional approaches in that part of the construction project. Here’s the video in full:
According to the press release, 14Trees intends on “Rolling out COBOD’s 3D printing technology to Zimbabwe and Kenya.”
That’s quite interesting. Let’s see what we have here: a major concrete provider has adopted a popular construction 3D printing technology, and has apparently organized a marketing and delivery program for multiple African countries.
This sounds serious, and seems far more “real” than the multiple one-off concrete 3D printing experiments we’ve seen so far. This appears to be a true line of business for 14Trees and by extension, LafargeHolcim.
It’s not clear whether this venture is financially viable, but the fact that LafargeHolcim is essentially creating a new line of business for it alone tells you something.
LafargeHolcim has deployed their R&D center for support and expertise requirements by 14Trees, so it’s not like a small group is on their own; this seems to be integrated into LafargeHolcim to some degree.
What is really going on here? My suspicion is that this is a large trial run by LafargeHolcim to investigate the possibilities of construction 3D printing. Should this prove successful, they may be intending on widening their deployment to other continents.
That would then make this the first step on a very big journey to a future where 3D printed buildings could become commonplace.
Maybe we’ll see a 14,000Trees company soon?