Earlier this week, L&T Construction, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Larsen & Toubro conglomerate, announced that it has achieved the construction of a two-storey building that has been fully 3D printed. The achievement is a milestone, for it validates the use of 3D printing in a multi-floor building, hence proving that such technology ca be used in the construction space as well. L&T claims that the making of the 3D printed building is the very first of its kind in India, and has massive potential to significantly alter affordable housing – in terms of cost, quality and speed of construction.
The key technology behind this remains 3D printing – a tech that has in parts had a massive impact on many industries, and in parts not taken off to its full potential. Critical sectors such as healthcare have used 3D printing as a way to research on human tissues and develop previously unseen treatment techniques. With a sector like construction requiring long term durability, will 3D printing be good enough in terms of the quality of a building?
The potential is real
MV Satish, senior executive vice-president at L&T Construction, claims that not only will 3D printing speed up the manufacturing of multi-floor constructions, but actually improve the quality and durability of houses. The base material of the building, used as input material for the 3D printer, is described by the company as “a special, in-house developed concrete mix using indigenously available regular construction materials.”
L&T further states that the printing process also included vertical reinforcement bars (the main support pillars and beams) and horizontal “distributors” (or floor levels) using welded mesh. This, L&T claims, meets “provisions in the Indian Codes and optimised cost of construction.” In other words, 3D printing technology in construction can potentially meet regulatory requirements as well as offer operational benefits to companies who would use the new technology in building processes.
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Real world deployment
L&T states that it had attempted its first stint at 3D printing houses, with a 240 square feet 1BHK apartment back in November 2019. Now, the two-storey building covers an area of almost three times the first trial apartment (with 700 square feet built-up area), and also exhibits if 3D printing can make buildings with multiple floors – an aspect that is crucial for affordable housing.
The technology is deployable at construction sites, too. As L&T Construction noted in the making of its trial building, only the horizontal slabs for the floors were external material that were brought in. Apart from that, the entire building’s structure was 3D printed as a ‘cast in situ’ project – all materials built in site. The automated 3D printer consumed 106 working hours to come up with a building. This stands for about four and a half days of building time if the printer worked non-stop, and for average human labour time, would amount to close to two weeks.
This also showcases a key benefit of using such a technology instead of human labour – 3D printers at construction sites can work for longer hours without human aspects such as work hour regulations, fatigue, risks of work, shift timings and so on. This can also drastically speed up the process of building, while maintaining the quality of construction.
Noting this aspect, L&T Construction believes that its 3D printing achievement will make a considerable mark in the Indian central government’s ‘housing for all’ plan for 2022 – where it seeks to build 60 million houses for the underprivileged. The sector is still nascent, but as an early mover, L&T’s new initiative can have a dramatic impact in this critical sector.