Engineers at the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) have worked with construction specialists COBOD and CEMEX to build what they say is the largest building to ever be 3D printed from ‘real concrete.’
Erected in the Omani capital of Muscat, the 2,100 sq. ft home, complete with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, living room, kitchen and reception area, has been built via a unique additive approach. First developed by CEMEX and COBOD, and later used to build Angola’s first 3D printed house, the process involves mixing D.fab solution with local aggregate, in a way that’s said to make it much easier to deposit.
“This revolutionary 3D printing system is a testament to our customer-centric mindset and relentless focus on continuous innovation and improvement,” said Juan Romero, CEMEX’s Executive VP of Sustainability, Commercial and Operations Development. “Working together with COBOD, we have developed an experience for customers that is superior to anything that has been provided in the past.”
In order to build their house in Oman, the GUtech team turned to COBOD and its BOD2 3D printer, a gantry-mounted system that enables the layer-by-layer construction of multi-storey concrete structures. Though impressive, the technology itself has been around for a while now, and since erecting its first 3D printed building in 2017, COBOD has used it to address construction challenges around the world.
Last year alone, the firm worked with 14Trees, a joint venture between building material specialist LafargeHolcim and the CDC Group, to help tackle Malawi’s classroom shortage by 3D printing an entire school there, and deployed its technologies to construct three new low-cost homes, in a bid to combat the US’ affordable housing crisis.
Towards the end of 2021, however, COBOD revealed that it had worked with building material developer CEMEX to come up with a novel method of turning regular concrete into a lower-cost 3D printable material. In essence, the firms have been able to accomplish this by adding CEMEX’s D.fab solution to locally-sourced aggregate, in a way that makes it more fluid, malleable and easier to print.
During the first proof-of-concept project to use the material in Angola last year, the companies worked with local contractor Power2Build, which found that being able to deploy local aggregate allowed it to reduce its housing construction costs dramatically, down to less than $1,000 for each 575 sq. ft of home built.
Now, following the success of the second such project to use its machines and new cement mixture in Oman, COBOD Founder Henrik Lund-Nielsen says the enhanced cost-saving potential of its technologies could enable their even wider application.
“While we have been happy to help various cement and concrete manufacturers develop dry mix 3D printable mortars, we have also insisted that a solution for making real concrete from local available materials would be needed for mass application of our technology,” added Lund-Nielsen. “We are more than pleased that CEMEX took on the challenge, and proud that we in cooperation could develop the new solution.”
“With the low cost of printed materials, on top of the savings from not needing formwork and the minimal crew needed to operate our printers, our disruptive technology is now more competitive than ever.”
Economical Omani 3D printing
Constructed over the course of just five days, the GUtech team’s unique social housing build was only made possible by their close collaboration with colleagues at COBOD and CEMEX. Before getting started, for instance, the Omani crew were given a crash course in BOD 3D printing, while CEMEX helped formulate the ideal building material for the project.
Once prepared, the engineers found they were able to erect the building rapidly, at a reported cost of less than €1,600. Largely, the crew were able to achieve this by sourcing more than 99.5% of the build’s materials locally, with the other 0.5% or so coming from CEMEX additives, and according to COBOD, if the house had been made from dry mix mortar, it would’ve cost upwards of €20,000.
After the home had been finished on December 14, 2021, it was presented to a 200-strong crowd of dignitaries, including His Excellency Sultan Al-Habsi, Oman’s Minister of Finance. Moving forwards, it’s hoped that the project will drive the further adoption of 3D printing in the country’s construction industry, as part of its Vision 2040 plans to develop its national technical and entrepreneurial capabilities.
“Today’s display of the first 3D printed building is perhaps the first step in the 1,000-mile journey. A step that will not be successful without the support of all parties involved,” Dr. Hussain Al Sami, Acting Rector of GUtech, said at the building’s unveiling. “In this regard, I sincerely thank all the local and international parties who contribute to supporting the center and the university.”
“We hope that this center will play its part in supporting Oman’s efforts to achieve Oman’s Vision 2040.”
AM in Middle Eastern construction
Although COBOD has been keen to highlight how GUtech’s Omani home is the first of its kind to be 3D printed from real concrete instead of traditional dry mix mortars, it’s far from the first additive manufactured structure in the Middle East. In fact, the region has become a hive of 3D printing activity over the last few years, so much so that last year the UAE’s Prime Minister issued a construction AM decree.
At around the same time, the Government of Dubai unveiled what was said to be the world’s first 3D printed research lab. Built to serve as an international additive manufacturing hub at the emirate’s 77 km² Solar Park, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) facility now houses the agency’s rover and drone R&D.
Elsewhere in Dubai, it was revealed last August that real estate developer Pantheon Development was weighing up 3D printing an eleven-storey building. While the company is said to have discussed the viability of such a structure with three different construction firms, it remains unclear if it will pursue its plans any further.
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Featured image shows GUtech’s Omani home and COBOD’s BOD 2 3D printer at the building’s formal unveiling. Image via COBOD.