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World's first 3D-printed apartment building pops up in China

World's first 3D-printed apartment building pops up in China


This post first appeared on CNET.

While architectural firms compete with their designs for 3D-printed dwellings, one company in China has quietly been setting about getting the job done. In March of last year, company WinSun claimed to have printed 10 houses in 24 hours, using a proprietary 3D printer that uses a mixture of ground construction and industrial waste, such as glass and tailings, around a base of quick-drying cement mixed with a special hardening agent.

Now, WinSun has further demonstrated the efficacy of its technology -- with a five-story apartment building and a 1,100-sq-m (11,840-sf) villa, complete with decorative elements inside and out, on display at Suzhou Industrial Park.

The 3D printer array, developed by Ma Yihe, who has been inventing 3D printers for over a decade, stands 6.6-m high, 10-m wide and 40-m long. This fabricates the parts in large pieces at WinSun's facility. The structures are then assembled on-site, complete with steel reinforcements and insulation in order to comply with official building standards.

RELATED: A closer look at WinSun's 3D-printed 12,000-sf mansion.

Although the company hasn't revealed how large it can print pieces, based on photographs on its website, they are quite sizeable. A CAD design is used as a template, and the computer uses this to control the extruder arm to lay down the material "much like how a baker might ice a cake," WinSun said. The walls are printed hollow, with a zig-zagging pattern inside to provide reinforcement. This also leaves space for insulation.

This process saves between 30 to 60% of construction waste, and can decrease production times by between 50 to 70%, and labor costs by between 50 to 80%. In all, the villa costs around $161,000 to build. And, using recycled materials in this way, the buildings decrease the need for quarried stone and other materials -- resulting in a construction method that is both environmentally forward and cost effective.

In time, the company hopes to use its technology on much larger scale constructions, such as bridges and even skyscrapers.

Michelle Star is an associate editor in CNET's Australia-based offices. She joined CNET in 2009 with extensive experience, writing mainly the games spaces for titles including Official Playstation 2 Magazine, Official Xbox 360 magazine, PC Games Addict and PC Powerplay.

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