The first tenants will soon be able to move into the Swabian town of Wallenhausen – in Germany’s first multi-family house from the 3D printer. It took two and a half months to get the shell of the house in place. The Bavarian construction supplier Peri has piled it up centimeter by centimeter: A heavy print head, which is directly connected to the printer, ran from left to right and back, thus printing one layer of concrete over the other. Until the individual layers became walls and revealed what is currently being built in Wallenhausen: A residential building with three floors, five apartments and 380 square meters. It is the second completely printed residential property in Germany.
Although the printer house is a pilot project, some industry experts are already hoping that 3D printing will soon relieve the strained German real estate market. Because not least the higher costs for building materials and craftsmen have recently fueled real estate prices properly.
Potential savings of at least 25 percent
The cost of building new residential properties this year is 3.1 percent higher than in the previous year, reports the Federal Statistical Office. 3D printing could result in potential savings of at least 25 percent, especially in wage costs and in the shell construction. This has been determined by a study by the Fraunhofer Information Center for Space and Building IRB.
3D printers work at speeds of up to one meter per second. The Peri printer only takes five minutes to cover one square meter of wall. For comparison: In conventional buildings, experts estimate an average of just under half an hour per square meter of wall. “A 3D printer can reduce the overall construction time and thus also the construction costs,” says Niklas Möring from the North Rhine-Westphalia Building Industry Association.
Not only in terms of time, but also in terms of labor costs can be saved with 3D printing. Most printers in the construction industry only need two people: one to operate the printer and one to monitor whether the concrete is flowing properly. “That is not insignificant for the German construction industry, which has been losing out on the next generation for years,” says Möring.
German industry is currently short of 65,000 skilled workers, has calculated the Skilled Workers Competence Center (Kofa) at the Institute of German Economy (IW). Most of them are missing in manufacturing, production and construction.
Möring emphasizes that 3D printers do not take the job away from any bricklayer. “In the future, too, the classic bricklayer with his trowel will be indispensable in construction.” Printers are not yet able to completely build a house. So far they have only supplied the supporting structure, not the roof and certainly not stairs or insulation. “Here at the latest, bricklayers, construction workers and other craftsmen are needed again,” says Möring.
And there is another catch: “The 3D printers that are currently on the market can only print houses up to a certain size.” As a rule, the third floor ends. The statics also cause problems.
North Rhine-Westphalia’s building minister Ina Scharrenbach (CDU) wants to change that. “Reinforced concrete is indispensable as a building material for challenging objects,” she says. Your ministry is therefore funding research projects at RWTH Aachen University, where civil engineers investigate how steel can be incorporated into 3D printing. If that succeeds, 3D printers could create parts of buildings that can withstand higher loads, for example ceilings or beams.
Hardly any provider
It will take some time before houses made from the 3D printer are suitable for the masses. Anyone interested in such a house today must first find a company that uses the technology at all. While more and more start-ups are producing individual components with the help of a 3D printer, Peri claims that it is the only provider in this country to date that has a complete shell printed on site.
In addition, the real economic benefits of 3D construction have so far been difficult to assess. Above all, questions such as how expensive printed properties will be on the market and how durable they are cannot be answered at this point in time by either politics or the construction industry. There is a lack of empirical values. Even pioneer Peri is reluctant on this point. From there it says on request: “We can only give reliable figures if the technology has been used several times and under different conditions.”
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