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Nakheel’s 3D concrete printing project seen as catalyst

3D concrete printing Reuters/Max Schwarz
A robot arm piles up concrete layers: 3D concrete printing is said to take 60% less time than conventional concrete pouring
  • First licence goes to Nakheel
  • Technology used at Al Furjan Hills
  • Labour costs cut by 80%

Dubai’s first licence for 3D concrete printing in a building project is a catalyst for the technology to become the norm in the construction sector by the end of the decade, experts believe.

The licence was issued in December by Dubai’s planning and development department, Trakees,  the regulatory body of the Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation, to Nakheel, one of the emirate’s biggest developers.

The technology has been used at the developer’s Al Furjan Hills project, with the 3D concrete printing process complete 20 days after the start of construction.

“3D printing technology stands as one of the latest eco-friendly construction methods,” said Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman of the Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation.

“Unlike traditional methods that involve pouring concrete layers, 3D printing relies on a robotic arm to directly print layers of cement-based material onto a prepared surface.”

Abdullah Belhoul, CEO of the Trakhees planning and development department, said 3D concrete printing reduces labour costs by 80 percent and shortens the duration of construction projects by 60 percent.

Under Dubai’s 3D printing strategy, the emirate wants 25 percent of its buildings constructed using 3D printing by 2030.

Last year, a 3D-printed private residential villa was completed in Dubai, a three-bedroom, 202-square-metre home by Emaar at its Arabian Ranches III community.

A report from the international construction and property consultancy Thomas & Adamson said: “While 3D printing hasn’t fully taken off as yet, its potential to deliver certain types of structures at attractive price points and in record times is apparent.”

The report said that, in some markets, the cost of a basic 3D printed home is stated to be around $10,000, but could be as little as $4,000. 

Buildings are currently responsible for 39 percent of global energy related carbon emissions. Of this, more than two-thirds comes from the energy needed to heat, cool and power operations, and the rest from materials and construction, according to the World Green Building Council.

Dr Mustafa Batikha, an associate director of research in the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, said: “In terms of sustainability, 3D concrete printing produces 25 percent fewer CO2 emissions than the in-situ technique from the production of materials.”.

In September last year Mighty Buildings, a 3D home construction company based in California, announced plans to set up factories in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, after raising $52 million in funding, led by Wa’ed Ventures, the $500 million venture capital fund backed by oil company Saudi Aramco.

Paula Boast, head of Middle East construction engineering and projects at Charles Russell Speechlys in Bahrain, said the growth of 3D printing was a positive, but cautioned that it could throw up potential legal complications around liability for defective products and intellectual property.

“Nevertheless, the current growth trajectory of the technology would indicate that more and more industry players will experience, adopt and embrace 3D printing, which may one day mean that it does indeed become the new norm,” she said.

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