INTERVIEW: COBOD on the State of Construction 3D Printing 

How big is the market for construction 3D printing? 3D Printing Industry spoke to Henrik Lund-Nielsen, founder of Denmark’s COBOD International, to learn more about a recent report on the number of 3D printed buildings and trends in the sector.

According to COBOD’s research, there are 130 3D printed buildings across 106 construction sites worldwide. Lund-Neilsen says the relatively low numbers are a result of various factors, like delays in the system. “There are not many such companies; hence, slow growth makes sense. “Although the 40% growth is really good, it could have been much bigger if not for this reason,” explained the COBOD founder. Lund-Neilsen explained that people in the general construction sector view 3D construction printing as untested. The industry needs risk-taking and forward-looking companies. 

The addressable market for 3D construction printing is “very, very large There is a housing problem in almost every country, and people are beginning to realize that 3D printers can build cheaper and faster if real concrete is used instead of mortar. Lund-Neilsen says using expensive ready dry mix mortars which meant that all the labor savings were offset by the additional cost of materials is another reason for the low numbers.

Housing is only one type of market. The 3D printers are suitable for other markets, including offices, warehousing, reservoir tanks, windmill towers, and infrastructure such as bridges.

Region3D printed buildings3D printed buildings made with COBOD printers3D printed buildings made in 20223D printed buildings made with COBOD printers in 2022Printing sites where COBOD printers have 3D printed buildingsPrinting sites where other suppliers’ printers have 3D printed buildings
Middle East1776579
North America41131871318
Latin America515
% of the total40%56%41%
Construction 3D printing progress. Statistics via COBOD.

Forecasts for the future of 3D construction printing

But how many buildings will be made using 3D printing in the next five years? Lund-Neilsen expects, “more than 100 new 3D printed buildings, as a result of multi-unit projects done by our consumers, along with other companies.” This equates to, “150-200 new buildings in 2023 alone and add a growth rate of 40%.” The growth rate used is the sales growth of COBOD. Projecting the trend,  Lund-Neilsen says, “by 2024, you would have 210-280, and so on. Hence, for the 5 years, it would be 1700-2200 units.”

Lund-Neilsen says the longer term potential is more like hundreds of thousands or even millions of buildings. More than one million fresh housing units are built each year in the EU and the US alone, but the need is greater. Some COBOD customers are starting to recognize the potential in Africa, South America, and Asia, which will result in the addition of millions of potential units.

COBOD’s involvement in the 3D construction printing industry

Founded in 2017, COBOD has sold over 65 printers globally, to clients like GE Renewable Energy, Holcim, CEMEX, and PERI. COBOD also announced joint ventures with major regional organizations such as Orascom in Egypt and Bakrie Group in Indonesia. New local competence centers were established in Miami and Kuala Lumpur to support COBOD’s growing global customer base.

Recently, industrial 3D printer manufacturer Pantheon3D bought COBOD’s BOD2 3D construction printer for The Ohio State University‘s (OSU) Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME). CDME worked with Pantheon 3D to improve Ohio’s affordable housing portfolio, among other things, through the use of COBOD technology

COBOD’s 3D construction printer was supplied to GUtech, Oman’s German Technology University, which assisted in constructing three 3D printed buildings in Duqm, 540 kilometers from Oman’s capital. These structures were developed in Oman’s Special Economic Zone in collaborative efforts with General Contractor Teejan. The total printing time was 22 hours, and the construction was completed in three days, working eight hours per day. The structure is 37 meters tall (12 feet).

COBOD BOD2 3D construction printer. Image via COBOD.
COBOD BOD2 3D construction printer. Image via COBOD.

An overview of the 3D construction printing market

Alquist 3D, another company working in the growing 3D construction sector previously announced plans to construct 200 homes in the US state of Virginia. After completing the “first owner-occupied 3D printed home” earlier in 2022, Alquist 3D set out to complete the biggest construction project to date “realized with the technology” in Pulaski and Roanoke. 

Larsen & Toubro Construction (L&T), India’s largest construction company, completed the country’s first 3D printed two-story building in 2021. The building comprising a floor space of 65m² was built employing a large-format concrete 3D printer supplied by COBOD. The building was made of a locally sourced 3D printable concrete mix created by L&T’s in-house team. The structure located at the company’s Kanchipuram facility near Chennai city also incorporated reinforcement bars and is legally compatible with all of India’s building codes.

A 2021 study on concrete 3D printing was criticized by 3D printing companies Apis Cor, Black Buffalo 3D, and COBOD. The companies contacted 3D Printing Industry to question the research on 3D concrete printing upon which the findings are based. 

“The authors used a recipe which has been developed academically and to our knowledge has never been used in practice,” said COBOD’s Founder. “What predominantly is used in practice is our Dfab solution, developed with CEMEX, which replaces the need for an excessive amount of binder or cement with the use of a few liters of additive (with very, very limited CO2 footprint). This way we can have a binder or cement content of roughly half that found in the study.”

“It also appears that many of the study’s foundational assumptions are incorrect,” added Apis Cor CEO Anna Cheniuntai. “For example, they assume printer rental cost equates to 37% of overall construction cost while materials only account for 22%. Our lease rate is projected to be $8k/month, during which time the walls of four (4) 2,000 sq. ft. homes could be easily printed.”

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Featured image shows COBOD BOD2 3D construction printer. Image via COBOD.