A Chinese construction company has used additive manufacturing techniques to print out nearly everything needed to assemble multi-storey buildings, from large-scale structural components to decorative embellishments.
In order to demonstrate the potential of its new building technology, Shanghai-based Winsun used its proprietary 3D printer to produce a five-storey apartment and a 1,100 square metre villa for display at the Suzhou Industrial Park.
The gigantic 3D printer array developed by WinSun CEO Ma Yihe for construction purposes dwarfs the compact devices more commonly associated with the wonders of additive manufacturing.
The printer developed by Ma is itself commensurate in size with a moderate-sized building, measuring 6.6 metres in height, 10 metres in width, and 40 metres in length.
According to WinSun, the printer's computer makes use of a dextrous extruder arm to pour out the building material in multiple layers in accordance with a CAD software template, "much like how a baker might ice a cake."
The building parts are first printed out at WinSun's factory before they're conveyed to the construction site and assembled into multi-storey structures with the aid of steel reinforcing components and insulating materials.
The application of additive manufacturing to the building process brings major benefits when it comes to cost and efficiency - areas of particular importance for the construction sectors of emerging economies like China.
The technology cuts down dramatically on wasted construction material, achieving savings of between 30 and 60 per cent.
According to Ma, the printing medium itself can be considered a type of green building material, consisting of recycled glass, fibre and construction waste that has been ground up and mixed with a base of fast-drying cement and a special hardening agent.
Ma notes that the usage of recycled building materials in tandem with the reduction in on-site wastage has the potential to slash the construction sector's CO2 emissions.
The process also achieves massive reductions in time and labour. It can cut down construction times by between 50 and 70 per cent, and labour costs by between 50 and 80 per cent.
The 1,100 metre square villa was produced using WinSun's technology for little more than US$160,000 - a cost advantage that has already help the company receive 10 orders for the printed mansions.
This is not the first time WinSun has created a global buzz with the application of 3D printing to the blitzkrieg creation of complete buildings. The company made a splash in the international press last year when it printed 10 houses in space of a single day - a feat proving the speed and efficiency of the process.
WinSun harbours even grander ambitions for its proprietary technology, with plans to apply it to the construction of larger structures such as bridges, high-rise buildings and factory complexes.
The company has also entered a partnership with Nile Sand Material Technology to build a dozen "dream factories" using sand as the base material, and hopes to export the technology to as many as 20 different countries around the world.