3D-printed, earthquake-proof homes on SA’s horizon

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 15 Jun 2023
(Photograph by Lesley Moyo)
(Photograph by Lesley Moyo)

The use of 3D printing technology not only facilitates faster building practices, but 3D concrete-printed homes have the ability to withstand seismic events like last weekend’s earthquake.

This is according to the South African Housing and Infrastructure Fund (SAHIF), remarking on the potential of 3D printing in the wake of the4.4-magnitude earthquake felt across parts of Gauteng on Sunday morning.

The cause of the earthquake was traced to mining-related activities, with reports noting Boksburg as the epicentre. No fatalities were recorded but some homes in the area were damaged.

SAHIF CEO Rali Mampeule says the earthquake further illuminates the country’s need for resilient, sustainable and quality housing.

“The demand for affordable quality housing in South Africa far outstrips the supply. We can better address this challenge by reducing the cost of materials and labour, speeding up the construction process, and improving the quality of the finished houses,” says Mampeule.

“Not only are 3D houses more affordable and time-efficient to build, but we know they are durable enough to withstand the kinds of seismic forces that surprised us all this week.”

3D printing uses a device to create physical objects from digital models. The range of 3D-printable materials has grown significantly over the years, making the technology appealing to a wider array of industries, including construction.

3D concrete printing allows architects and engineers to work in unison to design and create buildings that can absorb and dissipate the energy produced during seismic events.

Statistics SA’s 2019 General Household Survey shows that almost 13% of the country’s population lived in informal settlements. It is estimated the urban housing backlog exceeds 2.5 million houses, with many families still living in informal housing.

Stats SA further estimates there are 2 600 informal settlements in SA, which accommodate 1.4 million households.

In SA, a number of 3D printing initiatives and proofs of concept have been unveiled, including the 3D construction printing for sustainable human developments pilot project that was officially unveiled at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

SAHIF, which says its aim is to accelerate affordable housing in SA, has partnered with Dutch construction technology company CyBe Construction, a provider of 3D concrete printers and earthquake-proof material.

The joint venture will see the organisations work together to construct and rollout the 3D concrete-printed houses, which are said to be structurally sound, and incorporate earthquake-resistant materials, such as steel and polymer.

Key to the construction is the CyBe Mortar, a high-strength, earthquake-resistant concrete specifically formulated for 3D printing. It is coupled with the option to use enhanced graphene polymer from UK manufacturer 2-DTech, notes SAHIF.

According to Mampeule, the partnership’s mission is bolstered by the successful on-site training using CyBe’s mobile 3D concrete printer at UJ.

“This technology demonstrated its capacity to construct a complete house within just five days, marking a significant stride towards addressing the country's pressing housing deficit. Introducing these innovative 3D-printed, earthquake-proof homes offers a sustainable solution to the country's housing shortage and reassures residents of their safety.”

Mampeule also believes the joint venture can help address the country’s social housing backlog. “We have a significant housing deficit − a problem that has persisted for many years. With the blueprint for resilient, cost-effective housing at their fingertips, we can accelerate constructing a safe and secure future for all our citizens.”

A 3D-printed school in Lviv, one of Ukraine's conflict-affected areas. (Photograph by Team4UA)
A 3D-printed school in Lviv, one of Ukraine's conflict-affected areas. (Photograph by Team4UA)

South Africa wouldn’t be the first country to build 3D-printed houses.

3DCP Group, a Danish 3D printing start-up, unveiled its first 3D-printed concrete tiny house in Europe, according to a report.

Located in Holstebro, Denmark, the building is said to be designed as an affordable option, housing all necessary amenities in 37 square metres. The overall aim is to build better, faster, greener and reduce the amount of strenuous work in the construction process.

3D printing technology is also being used by the Ukraine government, to address the shortage of schools in the country’s conflict-affected areas.

That country’s government has partnered with humanitarian fund Team4UA, which is operating on the ground in Ukraine to build schools.

According to a statement, in Lviv, the second stage of constructing the school's educational building has begun using 3D printing technology. Construction is expected to be completed this month, and the new additional school building is expected to be opened for 100 students in January 2024.

The technology-providing partners are Danish 3D construction company COBODand the 3DCP Group. CEMARK provides cement for the 3D printing concrete mix.

The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine has revealed that over 2 000 schools in Ukraine were damaged in the war, and 330 were destroyed due to the full-scale invasion. To combat this problem, the Ukrainian government has teamed up with several 3D printing companies to create innovative and cost-effective solutions for building new schools.

“The school construction project, based on 3D printing technology, is aimed at providing access to education to children affected by the full-scale war in Ukraine and creating an inclusive space for internally-displaced children in Lviv,” says Jean-Christophe Bonis, founder and chairman of Team4UA.

“Ruined schools and other educational institutions deprive the young generation of the opportunity to get a quality education, which can negatively impact their and the state's future. Innovative solutions will help to overcome this problem now, many times faster and more efficiently.”