Insulated home created through 3D printing

The development of 3D printing has been one of the most remarkable technological innovations of recent times. A whole array of items, products and innovations have been produced in a manner that might have been thought of as pure science fiction by a previous generation.

At times, it has seemed as if almost nothing was beyond this technology, even worrying developments like the capacity to print off a gun. However, the latest development, reported by The Construction Index, will be of greatest interest to the property and building sectors - a 3D printed house.

French contractor Bouygues Batiment Grand Ouest has been carrying out a demonstration on behalf of Nantes Metropole Habitat, a social housing provider, the Construction Index reports. Developed by researchers at the Nantes Digital Sciences Laboratory and the Research Institute of Civil Engineering and Mechanics, which are both part of the University of Nantes, the pioneering innovation is a new 3D printing machine called Batiprint3D.

In its demonstration, it created a 95 sq m house, which had curved walls, corners and openings, as well as a construction method that created very high levels of insulation.

This was achieved by combining two layers of expanding foam with one of concrete. The foam stayed in place as the concrete set, producing a double layer of insulation with no gaps.

Indeed, this may be a key reason for the technology to be adopted widely, as it would make it easier to ensure insulation in a new home is up to scratch and has no defects. While Bouyges is a French company, it has a substantial presence in the UK, so if 3D printed homes do take off, they may become commonplace in the UK.

Research and development manager at Bouyges Construction Bruno Lineatte said: "The aim is to prove that housing can be built to the highest quality standards, for all trades, but using different methods. This is an initial step that will enable us to learn a huge amount in terms of creating the construction methods of the future."

The development of new methods of construction is something that has enjoyed substantial traction in recent years as a number of new priorities have emerged. These include sustainability and energy efficiency, which means every new building needs to be well-insulated, as well as using the least-polluting materials and, ideally, is also equipped with extra items such as solar panels. Another concern is the speed of new construction, particularly as the need grows for more new homes to be built.

This latter concern has led to the increasing development of new techniques of modular construction, which can provide off-site assembly and rapid installation of new buildings, thus speeding up the whole process of projects. With insulation built into the fabric, such buildings can remain energy-efficient while still being built at a fast pace.

It is not just in homes that these are being built. Heathrow Airport has announced that it is to establish four off-site plants that will produce buildings for its £16 million expansion.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: "We want to use Heathrow expansion to not only upgrade Britain’s infrastructure, but cultivate a new world-leading sector and drive growth across the whole country.

"Boosting off-site construction will help make expansion more affordable and environmentally friendly and give Britain a lasting legacy of expertise that it can sell around the world - helping Britain lead the pack in global construction."