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Is 3D printing the future of GCC construction?

by Neha Bhatia on Jun 5, 2016

Shaping the future: The region’s first-ever 3D printed office, named Office of the Future, was launched in Dubai this year.
Shaping the future: The region’s first-ever 3D printed office, named Office of the Future, was launched in Dubai this year.

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The GCC’s first 3D printed office was unveiled in the UAE last month. Office of the Future, which took 17 days to develop, was inaugurated by Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Media Office confirmed on 23 May. The project forms part of the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy, which was launched in April 2016 with the aim of 3D printing 25% of Dubai’s buildings by 2030.

Office of the Future’s launch marks the commencement of an era wherein offsite building works will assert their benefits in the GCC’s construction sector.

Tightened fluidity amid dwindling commodity values has intensified the demand for tools and techniques that can accelerate construction schedules and reduce costs. For instance, the listed price of aluminium on London Metal Exchange (LME) had witnessed highs of $1,640 per tonne as of 27 April, 2016, before dropping to $1,550 per tonne on 27 May.

At $100 per tonne, steel prices appear to be stable on LME. However, the metal’s fortunes are more accurately represented by its price in China, which according to World Steel Organisation leads the global pack of steel-producing nations. On 27 May, China Steel Corp, the country’s largest steelmaker, raised prices for July and August shipments by 10.3% over values listed in its delivery contracts for June.

It would be unwise to believe that these global shifts will not impact the UAE’s construction market. Even as the country’s materials supply sector migrates towards a model of self-dependence, the competitiveness of this fledgling industry – coupled with tendencies to import materials – will rest on global economic factors.

In this context, the emergence of off-site construction practices in the GCC is hardly surprising, and Dubai’s Office of the Future is the region’s next step towards building better and faster. Indeed, the development is a “case study” for the world to study 3D printing’s scope as a construction tool, HH Sheikh Mohammed remarked.

“We announce today the opening of the first 3D printed office in the world, less than a month [after] launching the Dubai 3D printing Strategy that showcases a modern model of construction,” the Ruler said.

“We see this project as a case study that will benefit regulators as well as research and development centres at the regional and international levels on [the] real applications of 3D printing technology.”

Office of the Future is situated within the Emirates Towers’ premises in the city. The building spans 250 sqm, and its design also offers space for exhibitions and workshops as well as other events.

The structure was printed using a mixture of cement, and building materials that were designed and made in the UAE and the US. These materials have undergone a range of tests in both China and the UK to ensure their reliability.