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3D printing-
How it is going to save the world..?

specific application to disaster relief)

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Matthew Smith

University of Hertfordshire

Industrial Design

Degree Essay:















With the birth
of 3D printing in the early 80’s, the emerging technology has struggled
to find its way within mainstream manufacturing that is
still highly dominated by the demand of mass production through means
such as injection moulding. However, 3D printing has proven an asset within
specific niche’s throughout industries. A few of these include
medical, food, fashion and lastly architecture and disaster relief.  

Disaster relief aid helps those in
need to cope with the volatile nature of their situations, and helps improve the
lives of those effected. However, disaster aid as a whole has it’s limitations.
As disasters are usually unique and unpredictable, it makes it very hard to properly
prepare and respond efficiently. The difficulties come
from the time it takes to gather the appropriate resources and funding that
the effected zone needs, in time to make a difference to those in need.  The Application of 3D printing within disaster
relief is small and very specified. NGO’s such as Field Ready with 3D printing
small useful parts that have been broken or are in high demand.

 However, the same limitations still apply to
these scenarios. The amount of time it take to get a printer to a zone along
with the appropriate resources still holds the same problems. However, the
ability to print on sight and to demand, means more raw materials can be
shipped as is and manufactured at the area of effect. Specifically within
shelters the bed of the print as well as the structural integrity is not good
enough to replace that of a temporary shelter such as a tent or shanty town

These issues cannot be fixed with the
current availability of technology that is possessed today. However, with the
growth of applications such as carbon fibre printing, and the possible future
of a shift from mass manufacturing to 3D printing may cause a chain reaction
towards a more realisable and cost-effective solution to the ability to print
effective structures.  

This essay looks to address these
issues, and to explore the current future and emerging technologies within 3D
printing and 3D printing shelters to see if there’s opportunity to apply said technology’s
to improve the approach towards disaster stricken zones.




Chapter 1

Within its current state, 3D printing
housing structures is a concept that’s been heavily explored in the recent years.
The push towards alternative construction methods can be demonstrated world
wide through the use of current ongoing projects.

With structures such as the Dutch Canal House funded by an international team
of partners. This experimental project set out to push the limits of what is
possible with 3D printing in regards to architecture, it’s referred to in the
description of their website
” A
beta-preneurial building project, which has the goal to revolutionize
the building industry and offer new tailor made housing solutions
worldwide.”.  This project separates itself from the regular construction
methods of prefabricated concreate with the appeal of customisable structure
for the user, without the added expense and labour needed in traditional methods.
The same can be said about wastage and transport costs. As structures can be
built on site there is no expenses on specific tooling or transport making it
better for the environment as well as cheaper for the production costs.

 However on the other side
of this, trying to maintain a quality building that complies with the
prevailing regulations of safety standards, such as the following; “insulation, fireproofing, wind loads, foundations…these, as
well as the possible materials to print with (using this printer) are all
things that are being researched and investigated”. These
restraints are currently what’s holding this project back, further research and
funding is underway to find solutions to these problems.

The current technology
that makes their vision realisable, “The XL 3D Printer” is what they refer to as an upscaled
version of the Ultimaker (A common desktop 3D
printer that works by printing layer by layer). The current materials they are using
and developing are bioplastics.  “We aim to print with a material
that is sustainable, of biological origin, melts at a relatively low
temperature, and of course is sturdy and stable.”  – Q5 of FAQ in . They are currently
printing with a material developed by Hankel, that consists of 80% vegetable
oil called Macromelt. It seems the main intent for this project is to prove you
can build a better more sustainable house, with greater efficiency both in
price and time; while still maintaining a structure that does not comprise
practicality or style.  


Another Good example
of the current capabilities of 3D printing design structures is also based in
Amsterdam. This project driven by Eindhoven
University of Technology, proves that the
physical limits of 3D printing can compete with that of regular manufacturing
techniques. The construction of a 3D printed concreate bridge, according to an
interview article in the Guardian “has
some 800 layers, took about three months after starting in June and it is made
of reinforced, pre-stressed concrete”. In parallel to the previously
stated Dutch Canal House,  this project
helps eliminate excess material wastage by only printing what is needed, while
still maintaining its vital structural integrity. A very similar project to
this is a
3D printed bridge built by MX3D, a
technology driven startup company, attempting to also prove the physical limits
of 3D printing can compete with that of regular manufacturing techniques, not
just in concrete. This bridge underwent multiple design phases
and experiments. These included 3D printing with steel, a process that combines
welding with an old manufacturing robots hardware, and further sophisticated
programming to accomplish a working steel 3D printer. Essentially making
aluminium extrusions and manual welding within bridge making obsolete. This
project is trying to create a bridge from scratch, that will build itself on
site using these robots. This project is particularly interesting as it eliminates
the need for manual labour, where the other two examples still require some
degree of assembly. Aside from the designer(s)/engineer(s) that programmed and
created the bridges printable file. No labour is needed in the construction of
the structure. 


the Netherlands, a leading country in 3D printing is China. Currently Chinese
company HuaShang Tengda have managed to 3D print a two story, four hundred
square meter house in approximately a month and a half. The process consists of
building a frame with all the pluming and electronics housed within, then the
building is printed around the frame with their large duel nozzle printer. The material used is nothing new, as stated in the article
outlining HuaShang Tengda’s project, “The printing
material itself is ordinary Class C30 concrete, an extremely tough, durable yet
inexpensive material, and HuaShang Tengda states that any cement material
can be used with the process, so that other construction firms can take
advantage of what is locally available.”. This adaptability for the material used in 3D printing
the shelter helps the possible future globalisation of this building method.  In an interview with 3Dprint.com HuaShang
Tengda says “(This technology) will
have immeasurable social benefits … Because of its speed, low cost, simple
and environmentally friendly raw materials, (it can) generally improve the
quality of people’s lives. If to be used in developing
countries, international competitive bidding in a great competitive advantage,
the use of mechanical devices to reduce administrative costs and operating
costs.”. the insight towards developing
countries is especially interesting on the front that this is where this
technology is headed on being targeted, and will be explored later within this

Similarly the Chinese Shanghai based company WinSun has also managed to 3D print buildings and
houses on a smaller scale than that of HuaShang Tengda’s 2 story building.  In 2014 WinSun claimed to of printed 10 houses
in a single day, using 4 printers, and costing just over four thousand USD to
produce. The Material used
is made up of a mixture of  recycled
construction waste and concreate.  This
project has caught the eye of the Saudi Arabian government who has met with
WinSun to start making approximately 1.5 million homes in the next 5 years, after
constructing the worlds first 3D printed office building in Dubai. The vast
scale of this potential contract will prove they value of 3D printing buildings,
and show that the process is a valid contestant towards the regular
construction methods. WinSun is pioneering this movement into a new future of
structured housing, and could have a serious positive impact on the developing
countries and  countries of the 3rd
world by creating an accessible realistic movement in construction. 


Now focusing more specifically on the application
of 3D printing in disaster zones, although shelters have not yet been 3D
printed in a response of a disaster, organisations such as Field Ready apply 3D
printing to other needs within devastated areas.  For example the partial inspiration to start Field
Ready came from a situation in Hati after the aid had been supplied:


“What really got me going was a dear friend of
mine, who’s a nurse there and one night she had no medical supplies left as
nobody was donating anymore, she had to deliver 5 babies. What that meant was
she needed to find something sterile to tie off umbilical chords”. “so she took
her last pair of latex gloves, and they were sterile and she cut the fingers
off of them to then tie off the umbilical chords” “I thought I could 3D print
those umbilical chord clamps”. Recalls Dara Dots,  Co-founder of Field Ready in an interview
with France24 news channel, referring to the initial issue that led her on a
path to look for 3D printed solutions in disaster relief zones.


Not only this but the application of 3D to address
the need for specific specialised parts for vehicles and machines in remote
areas helps the transportation of other aid and supplies to different effected
regions to make sure that after the aid stops turning up, communities can still
cope and rebuild.


















that the current state of 3d printing for shelters and in disaster zones has
been explore lets look at the current limitations that effect these from moving
further towards a realisable solution. There are several limitations to 3D printing to aid disaster
relief, specifically in terms of printing shelters. Firstly, there are limited
materials that are suitable for creating shelters for those affected by
disasters. Materials such as concrete are difficult to ship due to their
weight, making it a costly option for disaster relief. The money spent on
shipping concrete shelters could be better spent on alternative temporary
shelters or other relief effort supplies. Transporting concrete is also very
time consuming and again is not practical in disaster situations. Disaster
relief often requires fast assembly of shelters for people who have been
displaced. By the time concrete shelters have been printed and shipped other
housing may have been found. The same can be said for bio plastic shelter. It
would also require a longer time period to be printed and shipped to meet
demand. Although, assembly of bio-plastic shelter maybe easier and not to
mention cheaper to transport, it faces other problems, such as structural
integrity. Unlike concrete, bio-plastic shelter is more likely to weather and
does not provide a long term solution.  

















current limitations are issues with possible modern technological solutions,
with technologies that may currently be in existence or being developed by with
other parties and companies. Companies such as MarkForged print with materials
such as Kevlar, Fiberglass and Carbon Fibre. The limited selection of
appropriate materials that is cheap printable and easily transported while
still maintaining an effective strength for shelters have been addressed by
MarkForged. They currently manufacture prints for astronauts, race cars and computers.
The technology works by 3D printing a nylon form and then melt the fibres onto
the plastic shape, to strengthen it and create a more durable form. This then
means the product can use less material but still maintain the same strength. In
response to an enquiry about the nature of their manufacturing techniques and
technology.  Their current starting price
for one of their industrial printer price is $36,990 SRP and their
highest model upwards of $ 69,000 SRP. So, these machines are awfully expensive
for the application of an emergency shelter. When reached out to contact
them with an enquiry about printing large enough shelters, they stated that
their current printers were too small to print a shelter of roughly: length 700
cm Width 300 cm, Hight 300 cm, as they mostly deal with specialised components
or small-scale manufacture. The proceeding, trying to find out how much
printing an emergency shelter would cost to print in Carbon Fiber, as I could
not provide an STL file with the full deign on, they could not give me an
accurate translation from the dimensions that were provided to them. However,
they have provided the price per cubic centimetre on their website. The cost
per cubic centimetre So, assuming that the wall thickness of the shelter is roughly
5 cm, in a 5-sided box (no floor) with the dimensions previously stated, and a
cost of $447 USD per 150 cubic centimetres.  (((300*300*5)*2)/150)*447 that’s only the two
sides, and that comes in at $2,682,000, the other three sides (((300*700*5)*3)/150)*447
 is $9,387,000, Then the total cost of a
single unit would be $12,069,000. As it currently stands its far too expensive
to print with Carbon Fiber. The economies of scale and demand for carbon fibre
is too low to benefit enough to make a difference. In comparison their cheapest
best material would be Fiberglass that is priced at around half the cost of
Carbon Fiber at $225 USD per Cubic Centimetre.  (((300*300*5)*2)/150)*225 = $1,350,000

= $4,725,000

This would put
the overall cost of the unit at $6,075,000, this again is far too expensive to
make for the demand of shelters needed after a disaster, Bologna (1997a) approximated
a response of 250, and 400 as the maximum number of people in settlement groups,
depending on the severity of the disaster.






















































Informed me of
current state of 3D printing.

Chapter 1




Online articles +
Company websites

A Brief History Of Amsterdam’s Narrow Canal Houses








Dubai Inaugurates First 3D Printed Office Building, Constructed in 17 Days

WinSun Agrees to Provide 100 3D Printers to Saudi Arabian Contractor for 1.5 Million New Homes

Winsun to lease concrete 3D printers to Saudi Arabia in ‘billion dollar’ constuction deal

Winsun to lease concrete 3D printers to Saudi Arabia in ‘billion dollar’ constuction deal

Shanghai-based WinSun 3D Prints 6-Story Apartment Building and an Incredible Home


WinSun and AECOM Sign Memorandum of Understanding, Will Collaborate on 3D Printing Construction and Building Design





Chinese Construction Company 3D Prints an Entire Two-Story House On-Site in 45 Days





books and Essays


Bologna, Roberto
(1997a). Strategic planning of emergency areas for transitional settlement,
Department of Architecture and Design Technologies, University of Florence.