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3D concrete printer stands to benefit South African construction

TRANSFORMATIVE SOLUTION 3D concrete printers offers transformative solutions to the challenges faced by the construction sector

LOCAL MANUFACTURE The Iroko 3D construction printers are co-designed by PMSA and 14Trees and manufactured by PMSA in South Africa

1st March 2024

By: Simone Liedtke

Creamer Media Social Media Editor & Senior Writer

     

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The development of fit-for-purpose machinery, made in South Africa and for African conditions, such as three-dimensional (3D) concrete printing, stands to offer the construction industry enhanced efficiency, sustainability and design versatility, says concrete equipment manufacturer Pan Mixers South Africa (PMSA) sales and marketing manager Quintin Booysen.

14Trees, a joint venture between construction materials company Holcim and UK development finance institution British International Investment, launched the construction-ready 3D printer, Iroko, in July 2023, to improve construction speed, cost and flexibility, while scaling up digital automation to “build resilient and affordable housing, education infrastructure and commercial real estate worldwide”.

The Iroko 3D construction printers are co-designed by PMSA and 14Trees and manufactured by PMSA in South Africa, while being distributed and supported worldwide by 14Trees. The printer’s mobility and optimised assembly are key tenets of the design.

Iroko is equipped with a multi-laser system that controls the print quality at 50 times a second to improve the overall performance of the end-product and enhance operator safety.

The new design is fitted with a material preparation and feed system, compatible with Holcim’s ink TectorPrint, and 14Trees’ growing range of low-carbon inks, which lowers a building’s carbon footprint by up to 70%, compared with traditional processes, Engineering News reported in July 2023.

This approach was said to reduce carbon dioxide emissions typical of standard methods of cement production and contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9) and sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11).

Although the technology is gaining traction globally, its adoption in South Africa has been tempered by building regulatory challenges, Booysen laments.

Once building regulatory issues have been addressed and resolved, building contractors will be given the opportunity to exploit this new technology in South Africa. Such a 3D concrete printer could offer transformative solutions to the challenges faced by the construction sector, particularly in addressing environmental constraints.

Booysen says these printers can significantly reduce material waste by ensuring precise printing that minimises unnecessary material use, thereby diminishing waste and the associated detrimental impact on the environment.

The automation and optimised designs facilitated by 3D printing also contribute to more energy efficient construction processes, effectively lowering overall energy consumption.

The technology also supports the adoption of ecofriendly and recyclable materials, which are pivotal in fostering sustainable construction practices.

“Through these means, 3D concrete printers are instrumental in steering the construction sector towards practices that are not only more sustainable but also conscious of environmental wellbeing,” Booysen says.

In South Africa, potential applications span across housing projects, infrastructure development and sustainable construction initiatives, offering economic benefits through reduced labour costs, faster construction timelines, and minimised material waste, Booysen explains.

The economic implications of adopting 3D concrete printing technology extend beyond cost savings, however, including potential job creation and increased competitiveness in the construction sector.

The sale of the technology can provide a revenue stream for manufacturers, while long-term rental options can make the technology more accessible to smaller construction firms. This could, in turn, drive job creation in these firms while increasing the number of active construction companies in the country, Booysen suggests.

He adds that successful integration hinges on collaborative efforts among technology providers, industry stakeholders and regulators.

Globally, 3D printing technology has successfully been deployed in applications for construction projects, such as housing projects implemented by 14Trees, in Kenya, showcasing the technology’s viability.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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