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Saudi Arabia's drive towards 3D printing

CW explores how Saudi Arabian contractors are taking to 3D printing as Vision 2030 projects gain traction

Demand for 3D-printed homes is on the up [representational image]
Demand for 3D-printed homes is on the up [representational image]
Saudi Arabia’s first 3D-printed home [representational image / Twitter / SPA].
Saudi Arabia’s first 3D-printed home [representational image / Twitter / SPA].

The business case for the adoption of 3D printing has been fortified over the last 12 months as technological advancements in the field make digitisation a more cost- and time-efficient option for the entire supply chain. As the GCC ramps up home-building efforts, 3D printing is simultaneously noting greater awareness and adoption in the region.

This August, Danish modular printer company Cobod said it was ready to ship the world’s largest 3D construction printer – ordered as part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 mandate to build 1.5 million private-sector homes over the next 10 years – to Elite for Construction & Development Co (Elite CND) in Saudi Arabia after completing the dry and full testing of the printer. The machine offers a print area of 300m2 per floor and can print three-floor tall buildings, with the Bod 2 configuration marking the largest printer that Cobod has produced to date.

After a private house in Riyadh was 3D-printed last year, multiple public and private organisations have shown interest in 3D printing for Saudi Arabia’s construction projects. The Bod 2 printers can print buildings of 12x27x9m and have a possible speed of up to 100cm per second. A Bod 2 unit was also delivered to the Technical University of Denmark in July 2019.

So far, concrete pumping equipment and concrete material limitations have hindered full utilisation of Bod 2’s speed of 100cm per second. Some Bod 2 customers have regularly been able to go up to 30 cm/second, Cobod said in a statement this August, adding that while the speed was three times faster than previous standards, it was still “somewhat below the capacity of the printer”.  Speaking in August, Michael Holm, head of research and development at Cobod, said the 3D printer was the company’s “most impressive” machine produced to date.

Elite CND is not the only Saudi Arabian contractor to have invested in 3D printing technology – Al Kathiri Holding Co announced in a missive to Saudi bourse Tadawul that, driven by the Ministry of Housing programmes and Saudi Arabia’s National Industrial Development and Logistics Program, its wholly owned firm Alian Industrial Co would be delivered finance by Saudi Industrial Development Fund for the construction of an Italian tech-powered 3D-printed concrete slab-making factory worth $8.6m (SAR32.1m) in the kingdom.

Al Kathiri signed an agreement with Italian construction technology company Emmedue in March 2019 to increase its 3D-printed concrete capabilities. The latest $6.2m (SAR23.2m) credit facility secured by Alian will fund the facility that will produce polystyrene sheets reinforced with iron and concrete.

The remaining 25% of the project’s cost will be financed by Al Kathiri, with the factory’s production capacity at full operational commencement expected to be 130ha at a rate of 1,000 homes each year. This output will be achieved over a three-year period after the first year of operations, with average sales of $16m (SAR60m) projected in the third year.

The plant is expected to be established and start production in H1 2020, and Al Kathiri said the 3D-printed concrete could help deliver cost and time savings of 30%.  Its statement at the time added: “In addition to its flexibility in providing modern architectural designs that which can be used in various areas of residential units and commercial buildings, 3D-printed concrete slabs achieve the highest standards of efficiency in acoustics and thermal insulation.”

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Construction Week - Issue 761
Mar 21, 2020