All I want for Christmas is the housing crisis to go away…

By Dr Juan Schutte, R&D engineer at UoA’s Creative Design and Additive Manufacturing Lab

New Zealand is a wonderful place to live, however it is plagued with colossal infrastructural limitations and a demoralising ever-growing housing shortage/crisis. Just ask any Aucklander who’s had the ‘luxury’ of peak hour traffic on the harbor bridge or the desperate individual trying to buy a house…

In a country of only five million, manual labor is expensive and presents a barrier on the supply for the growing demand. Currently the average NZ house costs ~$1 million. Compare this to the average after-tax income of ~$45,000 and it is easy to see how inaccessible a deposit of 20%($200,000) can be. Combining this with housing price growth trends (~30% increase during 2021) provides an even bleaker, depressing forecast for Kiwis trying to find a home.

Thankfully some have attempted to wrestle with these issues and leverage the automated nature of 3D printing (3DP) to overcome the challenges of status quo housing and infrastructure construction. In NZ, QOROX demonstrated its ability to use large robotic arms equipped with concrete extruders to create large structures reminiscent of Saint-Gobain Weber Beamix’s concrete printed house and MX3D’s metal printed bridge recently installed in Amsterdam.

This is exciting, however it is important to be aware of the limitations/feasibility for this technology’s use in construction. 3DP, while fantastic at providing complexity for free, is still a very expensive technology (especially if used incorrectly). It is important to resist the urge to print simple geometries (eg. a box) which could easily be made using a different technique. Currently the average house is analogous of a group of connected boxes and while printing can produce these boxes/walls, challenges still exist in embedding the electrical, plumbing, and installations(eg. windows and doors) fundamental for a functional house.

While alternative ‘mass-manufactured copy-paste’ housing suites a functional market, this does not necessarily service an individual’s expectation on what a home should be/look like. This provides an opportunity for architects/home developers to exploit 3DP to create complex facades similar to the impressive artistry printed by Benjamin Dillenburger.

Perhaps in the future we might all have our very own Sangria Familia or Cologne Cathedral to call home…

Dr. Juan Schutte works at the University of Auckland’s Creative Design and Additive Manufacturing Lab as an R&D Engineer consulting with industry and academia on the opportunities of 3D printing.

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Xpress Engineer NZ, NZ Engineering News or the parent company, Hayley Media.