NUS builds new 3D printing capabilities, paving the way for construction innovations

NUS Construction 3D Printing Programme aims to transform construction with novel building designs and materials

The Centre for Additive Manufacturing (AM.NUS) at the National University of Singapore today announced the launch of the AM.NUS Construction 3D Printing Programme to accelerate the adoption of 3D printing building technology in the construction industry. The programme, hosted under the School of Design and Environment (SDE) at NUS and supported by the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC), will develop sustainable materials and 3D printing designs to facilitate rapid mass production of building structures.

3D printing technology has transformed manufacturing in a wide array of sectors such as the medical, precision engineering and aerospace industries, enabling these sectors to significantly speed up production and lower costs. It also holds immense potential in revolutionising the construction industry to bring about greater efficiency and cost savings, as well as improved building structures and eco-friendliness with better building designs and materials. If adopted widely, construction 3D printing can empower nations to meet growing demands for housing, sanitation facilities or even rebuild cities rapidly. 

The new AM.NUS Construction 3D Printing Programme will help to realise the value of 3D printing in the construction sector, and establish an ecosystem of construction 3D printing capabilities in Singapore through cutting-edge research and collaborations with the industry. The programme also aims to provide training on construction 3D printing to NUS students and industry partners, as well as organise events such as conferences and workshops in the construction 3D printing space to encourage knowledge sharing in the area.

In addition, a construction 3D printing laboratory has been established as part of the programme and will house Singapore’s largest gantry type concrete 3D printing machine. The technology will be employed to test novel building designs and materials with the aim to develop concrete structures that can be easily mass produced by 3D printing in a sustainable manner.

Both the programme and laboratory will be based at SDE with researchers working closely with the industry on a range of research projects.

The AM.NUS Construction 3D Printing Programme has since embarked on two research projects.

3D printed toilet units to improve sanitation in India

The first is a 3D printed toilet project carried out in collaboration with the NAMIC and the Hamilton Labs to accelerate the production of toilet units in India and improve sanitation in the country.

The lack of sanitation has posed serious health problems for residents in India. Open defecation in rivers, lakes and ponds where water is being accessed have resulted in over 300,000 deaths from diarrheal diseases every year. While the India government has pledged to end open defecation by 2019, the construction of toilets remain largely manual and ineffective.

Researchers from the AM.NUS Construction 3D Printing Programme have developed a novel toilet unit design that can be 3D printed in under five hours, which currently takes a day to build manually. The new toilet unit is also 25 per cent cheaper to produce by 3D printing. The construction of a 3D printed toilet unit has since been completed at NUS, and will be shipped to India for installation in future. The researchers will also look into incorporating recycled materials in the concrete used to construct these toilets in the next phase.

The team has conducted thorough field studies in different parts of India to develop this 3D printed toilet that addresses the challenges of building a toilet in India – from construction, transportation to installation. Each toilet unit is made up of 12 smaller modules which can be transported to the destination where the toilet unit will be assembled and installed. The unique but simple design makes it easier for workers to complete the assembly and installation.

World’s first 3D printed volumetric formwork

The second project is the development of the world’s first 3D printed volumetric formwork for bathroom units. Formworks for concrete constructions are traditionally made with steel or timber and currently, it takes almost a day to complete the construction of a typical HDB bathroom unit. The new formwork, which replaces steel and timber with a polymer, could potentially construct up to 24 bathroom units in a day with the use of semi-automated production line. The researchers are now working with local authorities and a local firm to advance the project.  

There is much untapped potential in the use of 3D printing to shape the future of construction. Setting up the AM.NUS Construction 3D Printing Programme is a strategic push to promote widespread adoption of 3D printing technology in construction. By coupling the latest 3D printing technology know-how with the suite of research capabilities in building materials and design at NUS, the new unit could contribute towards making construction more efficient and sustainable.

The AM.NUS Construction 3D Printing Programme and Laboratory were launched at the International Conference on Construction 3D printing held at NUS from 5 to 6 July 2018. At the conference, SDE also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with local construction firm, Yosen Advanced Digital Construction and Manufacturing Pte Ltd to deepen engagements in the area.