3D concrete printer provider, CyBe Construction, and the South African Housing & Infrastructure Fund (SAHIF) have teamed up to address South Africa’s acute housing shortage. By leveraging 3D concrete printing technology, the two entities aim to deliver sustainable, affordable homes, responding to the pressing demand for cost-effective housing and contributing towards the United Nations’ objective of providing safe, accessible housing for all by 2030. This strategic alliance could potentially revolutionize South Africa’s construction industry, where a backlog of over 2.3 million affordable homes persists.
As part of their collaborative solution to the crisis, CyBe Construction and SAHIF have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The MoU encapsulates their mutual commitment to use 3D concrete printing as an alternative to traditional building methods, citing its potential to deliver quicker, cheaper, and more sustainable housing. The University of Johannesburg recently demonstrated the capabilities of CyBe’s Robot Crawler, a mobile 3D printer capable of building homes within hours, underscoring the promise of 3D printing in construction.
The impetus for this collaboration was a recent earthquake in South Africa, which highlighted the need for resilient housing structures. The quake, believed to have originated in Johannesburg’s neighboring city Boksburg, inflicted considerable damage to a vast number of buildings. SAHIF’s CEO, Rali Mampeule, stressed the necessity for affordable, robust housing, noting that 3D printed homes are not only economical and speedy to construct but also sturdy enough to withstand seismic forces.
With 3D concrete printing, CyBe Construction and SAHIF intend to construct earthquake-resistant homes. The technology enables the creation of structures with unique shapes reinforced with earthquake-resistant materials, such as steel or polymer. Crucially, CyBe has developed its own earthquake-proof mortar, CyBe Mortar, which has been specially formulated for 3D printing. This material combines high-strength aggregates and fibers, significantly improving its resistance to seismic forces. The company claims its material lowers CO2 emissions by 32% compared to traditional cement-based mortars, emphasizing the sustainability aspect of this construction approach.
The use of 3D concrete printing technology in construction promises more than just earthquake resilience. CyBe Construction believes the capacity for fast, affordable, and sustainable construction makes it an optimal solution to the housing shortage in South Africa.
3D printing for construction in theory and practice
Leaders in the construction 3D printing industry have defended the cost and efficiency of the technology, responding to an earlier study from Heriot-Watt University that challenged the purported advantages of 3D printing over traditional building methods. The study found that 3D printing a two-story structure in the UAE would increase material costs by 44% compared to precast concrete and only yield minor sustainability gains. Companies like COBOD, Apis Cor, and Black Buffalo 3D have criticized the study’s methodology, with COBOD’s founder arguing that the concrete recipe used in the research is not representative of practical use, leading to inaccurate conclusions.
These companies are challenging the cost and environmental implications presented in the study. For example, Apis Cor’s CEO, Anna Cheniuntai, claims their printer can reduce overall construction costs by 34%-37% compared to traditional methods. Meanwhile, Black Buffalo 3D is conducting independent research on the effectiveness of its technology and materials, promising more favorable results. The company also emphasizes that its material contains less cement and can be cured to create a high-strength output, leading to virtually “zero waste”.
Despite the criticism, Mustafa Batikha, one of the study’s authors, maintains that the industry can be highly profitable but needs more transparency and standardization, especially regarding the materials used.
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Featured image shows CyBe Construction 3D concrete printing. Photo via CyBe Construction.