I spoke at a conference in Eindhoven in 2009. It was a city that I was not familiar with so I asked the receptionist to tell me the two things I should know about this location. The answer was quick and definitive. White bicycles and innovation. The Witte Fietsenplan (White Bike Plan) was a plan by an anarchistic movement in the mid-sixties to introduce a free bicycle sharing system, but it was short-lived as white bikes were constantly removed by Police. Apparently it is still a sore point. And innovation. Over thirty per cent of money spent on research in the Netherlands is spent in the city of Eindhoven, despite a population of only 230,000. This is largely due to Brainport, a huge innovation park that combines accelerators, incubators and R&D centres and creates an ecosystem in which innovative start-ups are born.

With that backdrop, it is no surprise that the very first legally habitable 3D printed house in Europe is located in this innovative metropolis. The home is made up of 24 concrete units that are ‘printed’ by a 3D printer that squirts layer upon layer of concrete to form the units. After just 120 hours of printing, these units are transported to their final location and joined and a roof is added. It delivers a home that uses a third less concrete and is cheaper and quicker to build.

3D printing has revolutionised many industries around the world. The aerospace industry requires low volume but high-quality parts. 3D printing allows engineers to create, test and then manufacture a design in low volumes. The medical industry is 3D printing body parts, such as knee and shoulder joints, so they can be precisely matched to the requirements of each individual patient. Even movie studios are using a mix of 3D printed objects and CGI on small-scale sets to create realistic but cost-effective movie scenes. Why blow up a Hummer when you can blow up a scale model 3D printed Hummer?

The manufacturing industry is currently the largest user of 3D printing but the construction industry is poised to accelerate its use of large-scale 3D printing. In Mexico, a giant 3D printer is being used to print small houses on-site in just 24 hours. In Italy, a modular 3D printer is being demonstrated that can print very small houses (30 square metres) with a 3D printed outside shell which supports a timber roof. India just unveiled its first 3D printed home. The home was small but able to be built in just five days and is customisable so the technology is seen as suitable for the government’s affordable housing program. In Nevada, the PassivDom House is printed in a factory. The house is completely off the grid and can be printed and delivered to your location ready to move in. No waiting for services to connect – because there ae no services to connect.

Aussies are on board as well. A biotech company is currently designing a house that will be 3D printed from industrial hemp.

But back to Eindhoven. Proof of concept is one thing but Eindhoven now has a married couple living in a 3D printed house and paying rent for the privilege. If this house – and others being printed in a similar fashion – are successful, the thousands of new homes that the Netherlands needs to accommodate its growing population may have a high percentage of fast and cheap 3D printed houses in amongst them.

Tell me if you would feel comfortable living in a 3D printed house that took just days to go from screen to reality at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson

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