Mia Laylo

An Insider’s Perspective of 3D Construction Printing

The rise in popularity of 3D construction printing over the last few years has piqued the interest of many entrepreneurs and stimulated a steadily growing new business sector. Since then, many companies have developed their own technologies that now challenge the traditional methods of the construction industry. Amidst these companies, our team was particularly interested in COBOD, a leading manufacturer of 3D construction printers based in Denmark. 

To further develop our understanding of 3D construction printing, we have had the wonderful opportunity to interview Philip Lund-Nielsen, Co-Founder and Head of Americas at COBOD. 

COBOD at a Glance

After three years of researching the ‘State of the Art’ 3D construction printing, COBOD was founded in 2017. It was also during this time when they 3D printed the first building in Europe with the BOD (Building on Demand) printer. 

Since this milestone, their printers have been incorporated into several other commendable projects such as 3D printing the first two story building in India, and a windmill tower base in Copenhagen. One of Philip’s most memorable projects their company took part in was 3D printing the first school in Malawi during 2020, that students are currently using today. 

These achievements have motivated COBOD to further improve their 3D printers as they continue to push the boundaries of technology to attain new possibilities. 

The Benefits of the BOD2

Looking over the milestones COBOD has achieved with their printers, we wanted to learn more about why exactly it’s one of the world’s best selling 3D construction printers.  During the interview, we asked Philip how the concrete used in the BOD2 differs from the conventional concrete used in traditional construction. He described how their concrete is not far off from traditional concrete, however, they do incorporate a chemical compound into the cement mixture. This compound takes up only 1% of the concrete’s total weight, allowing it to be printed up to speed and the consistency needed for 3D printing. 

Our next question to the company co-founder is in relation to sustainability and structural integrity. Throughout history, concrete has already proven to be a sustainable building material overall. However, it is important to consider how 3D construction printing takes a step further with sustainability. Philip then goes on to discuss how 3D printing emits less CO2 compared to regular construction. Additionally, due to the art of 3D printing, we are able to reduce the amount of waste by only printing what you need. For instance, instead of cutting out a space for windows or doors, you can simply leave that area empty in the digital software when designing. This not only reduces the waste, but improves efficiency too. 

In regards to structural integrity, Philip talks about how their close partnerships within the concrete industry allows them to ensure the strength of their concrete. The BOD2 uses much stronger concrete with a compression strength measuring to about 30-35 mpas, compared to bricks (7mpas), and traditional concrete (approx. 20 mpas). 

Overall, not only do these benefits of the BOD2 prove to be a better option compared to traditional construction in terms of material use and efficiency, the 3D construction printing process  also works towards more sustainable methods of construction. 

Insights Into 3D Construction Printing Today

Although there are many articles you can find today about what 3D construction printing is like today, we wanted to know what it looks like from an insider’s point of view. According to Philip, the 3D construction printing industry has definitely matured and improved since its origins. When the company was first emerging, the first 3D printed building in Europe took around 2 months to complete. Compare this to the present day, which he said would only take them about 3 days to print. 

Philip also discussed the types of challenges that come with 3D construction printing today, one of which is the media. This industry has come a long way and has achieved numerous milestones, however, the media can be misleading and tend to set unreasonably high expectations. It has led to false impressions on what is possible to print, and clients become disappointed when their project is unattainable with 3D construction printing. Additionally, regulations can also be behind and slow to keep up with the latest technological advancements. When the first building was printed, additional supports still needed to be included to meet regulations even though the concrete could sustain itself.  The 3D construction printing industry is evolving faster than technical standards are. 

What to Look Forward To

Along with Philip’s impressions of 3D construction printing today, we also asked him about his thoughts in regards to the future of this industry. There have been other 3D printed projects that have tried to utilize materials other than concrete such as soil, our team was interested to know his opinion about this matter. Philip mentioned how he’s open to trying different materials that could improve sustainability, however, there needs to be further research done to see if they are capable of measuring up to the standards of concrete. 

We also asked if 3D printing could potentially tap into the furniture industry and print objects such as beds, and tables. Philip said that it’s definitely a possibility. The only limitation is that walls with more than a 25 degree slant would not be possible because the structure would topple over. With that taken into consideration, we can print out almost anything we envision.

Another prospect he hopes for is that this business sector actually inspires other sectors to integrate robotic features into their process, it doesn’t necessarily need to be building extrusion. For instance, companies can try and research the possibilities of multi-purpose construction control that is capable of insulating, plastering, or painting. 

3D construction printing technology has made many advancements over the last decade and has proven to be a strong competitor of traditional construction. This technology is only going to continue to grow, and could potentially revolutionize the construction instruction industry as a whole.