3d printers

Building with 3D printers may hold promise for affordable housing

A collaborative project to rebuild a house in historic Coconut Grove using a 3D concrete printer is laying the groundwork for the architecture school to explore new construction technologies and could serve as a prototype for making in the face of the housing crisis.

A team from the University of Miami School of Architecture is advancing a collaborative project with construction company 3D Printed Farms that will provide an innovative living space for a Miami family while providing the opportunity to enhance these new technologies so promising for the future of housing.

“The construction industry has a lot of room for improvement – it’s basically the same today as it was 100 years ago,” according to Armando Montero, assistant professor of professional practice who oversees the team at the project. “We have looked at the use of building technologies in our curriculum, and this research project is a great opportunity for the University and for us to explore a technology that could have a serious impact on affordable housing.

Montero noted that the advisory board overseeing the development includes members from South Florida’s top construction companies and even global representation.

One such member, W. Robert “Bob” Miller, who received his Bachelor of Science degree in architectural engineering from the University in 1977, was instrumental in engaging the school team in the reconstruction of a house located in one of the conservation districts of the Coconut Grove neighborhood. .

Miller, who chairs the advisory board for the Masters in Construction Management at the school of architecture, serves as a national board trustee for the nonprofit Rebuilding Together and has worked with Rebuilding Together Miami for years. -Dade, a local non-profit organization that provides free rehabilitation services for low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners. Rebuilding Together had identified a house in Coconut Grove, badly damaged years ago, for reconstruction and negotiated with the city of Miami to hire a builder.

Miller approached the City of Miami and suggested using new 3D printing technologies for the reconstruction instead of traditional construction, Montero acknowledged.

“It opens the door to using this technology and designing and building a home,” he said.

Max Jarosz, Director of Manufacturing and Adjunct Speaker, leads the small team involved in the Coconut Grove collaborative project. While the school is working closely with Printed Farms, which touts having “the fastest and most flexible 3D concrete printers in the world,” Jarosz said collaborations with other companies are also progressing. .

The team shared initial designs last week and, based on feedback, are redesigning plans to satisfy the client and fit the flavor of the historic Bahamas neighborhood where the home is located. The documentation process should be completed and the permitting process launched this semester, according to Jarosz.

New technologies pose some licensing challenges, but the University’s involvement and support should make the process easier, he said. The 3D printing of the concrete, which only takes about ten days, should begin by April or May.

Montero explained that the first connection with Printed Farms was made several years ago. Architecture students traveled to a site in Wellington, Florida (central Palm Beach County) to see a 3D barn the company was building.

“The students were mesmerized – it’s a wonderful technology with a lot of promise in the construction industry,” Montero said. “We decided to dig deeper to start a collaboration and showcase our program in some way.”

The rebuilding of homes in Coconut Grove and the current economic situation have provided the opportunity.

Montero cited labor shortages and rising costs for lumber and other building materials.

“The situation is not improving with the lack of manpower and the increase in costs. 3D gives us the advantage of not wasting materials – you don’t have wood that gets thrown away,” he said. “And a 3D printer doesn’t get tired after 10 hours of work, so productivity is better.”

Several years ago, the school participated in a mission to Haiti to try to help residents re-develop after an earthquake, Montero reported. The use of resources available in the natural environment was pragmatic and essential. Part of the problem back then was finding something they could build with – dirt, rocks, what could be useful? New technologies are better suited to meet this challenge.

The technology has improved since then, but there are a series of challenges and complications that need to be explored before it can be truly competitive.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re stepping in, so we can help address these issues,” Montero said. “We can start experimenting. The lab and students are already printing on a smaller scale, printing miniature architectural models,” he added.

“It’s pretty much the same, just a matter of scale and materials,” he continued. “This technology has a development curve; and while not the most feasible solution currently, it holds great promise for meeting industry needs. »

With 40 years in the industry, Montero said low productivity and wasted resources are some of his top pet peeves. These increase construction costs, which inhibits more affordable housing projects. In this crisis area, he highlighted a series of advantages and the “more hidden” that 3D structures offer compared to traditional construction.

“In addition to the durability issues – labor and materials – the resilience is much higher for wind loads, and it is insect free and fire resistant due to the nature of the material”, a- he explained, adding that even home insurance would be lower because the home would be rated as safer and lower risk. “These are all things that affect a family on a tight budget.”

Jarosz added that building the 3D printer solves a stigma often associated with affordable housing that usually doesn’t look as fancy, while keeping the cost competitive.

“A concrete 3D printer allows more complex geometries. We can turn a straight wall into a curved wall in different ways to highlight different site conditions and move around trees,” he said. “We don’t need to pour molds and concrete.”

The shorter construction time also reduces costs.

“Time is money in terms of construction,” Montero noted. “If we fix some of the flaws in the experimental phase of using this technology, you could probably print a house in a few days, depending on what percentage you can print and how much you can finish by hand,” he said. -he declares.

“We think it can soon be very competitive price-wise,” Montero added. “These are formulas that have yet to be worked out and this project gives us the chance to do so.”