Can we print our way out of a crisis?

The concept of a housing crisis is discussed in many contexts each day. The housing crisis or problem is nothing new, it’s just become topical to highlight it more. The housing crisis has been many years in the making caused by a lack of new houses being built. The public sector has abandoned large scale housing construction leaving the dependency on private housebuilders. 

As a result there is a need to build houses quicker. There are many ways to help do this – you can look at the planning system but it feels like a sensible solution is looking at how to build a house quicker. I mean technology must be able to help right? 

A question would be what is the future of housing? There are many answers to this but the correct answer will be a collection of ideas. No one idea will solve or redefine the future of housing. It will just contribute to it. So will one of those contributions be from 3D-printing?

Concrete and mortar in place and a robot pre-programmed to follow digital blueprints. Already 3D printers are used to build objects using molten plastic and powders. With the evolution of technology though this lends itself to (a) new materials and (b) larger printers. 

Computer-controlled sequential layering of materials into 3D shapes is effectively 3D printing. This is not new but like most things over time it has become more straightforward and affordable to perform. The simple way to view is that a digital model is created and then the printer simply reads the design and lays down the layers in the required material. 

There are already trials underway in the UK (and further afield examples fully constructed). The automation of construction using brick-laying robots has been performed by Construction Automation in Yorkshire. There is a great need to meet the housing crisis and the ability for this to be quick and cheaper makes it certainly appealing – particularly in the affordable housing arena. Around the world there are varied examples availabl to date:

  • France: A 3D-printed home which took 54 hours to print is now resided in by a family. 
  • Germany: The local government has funded work on a two-storey family home. 

The UK may be lagging a little compared to the rest of the world but this is a new technology which has the capability to be used much wider (including here!). Equipping sites with printers and the training to use could really help. The ability to print will significantly reduce build times – which basically means housing is delivered quicker surely. 

So imagine a world where robots crate house after house on blocks of land in cities. Each house being constructed within days not weeks or months.

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