3D printing is about to make a splash -- literally! -- onto the construction scene. New York City architect/contractor Adam Kushner and partners James Wolff and Enrico Dini are teaming up to construct the world's first 3D-printed estate, featuring an in-ground swimming pool, a pool house, and a four-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot home. Ground has already been broken on the five-acre parcel of land in Gardiner, New York, about 80 miles north of New York City, and the 3D printing will start next year.
This ambitious historic project will be printed using a modified version of the D-Shape printer, reportedly the world's largest 3D printer, which is made by a privately held company. Currently, neither of the 3D printing bigwigs, 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) and Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS), are involved in large-scale 3D printing. However, that could change in the future, as both companies are pursuing turbocharged growth strategies.
I reached out to Kushner, who graciously spoke with me about this potentially groundbreaking (no pun intended) project. While there's no public company involved in this story, the bigger the 3D printing market size becomes, the potentially more lucrative it should be for 3D printing investors in the long run, and it's important to keep up-to-date on the ever-expanding applications of this amazingly disruptive technology.
The team came together when Kushner was exploring the idea of 3D printing the house he wanted to build on the property he and his wife own. Kushner, Wolff, and Monolite UK -- of which Dini is a partner -- formed D-Shape Enterprises to bring the D-Shape 3D printer and technology to the United States.
Kushner is the founding principal at the architectural firm KUSHNER Studios, and a partner at its construction arm, In House Group. His companies have been involved in some notable projects in New York City, and their projects have been featured on such shows as Bravo's Million Dollar Listing New York. A man whose work has appeared on such programs is naturally aiming to produce an aesthetically pleasing end product. This, in and of itself, would set it apart from much of the housing that has been constructed using 3D printing, as the technology has mainly been used to produce very basic small houses.
Dini, who has a civil engineering degree, is the inventor of the D-Shape printer, described below. He is Italian, and hails from a mathematically and mechanically accomplished family. His father worked for the inventor of the iconic Vespa motor scooter, and his great uncle was the mathematician who derived Dini's Theorem.
Wolff is one of the co-founders of Deep Space Industries, an asteroid mining and space utilities company, which plans to use asteroid material as a feedstock for 3D printing metal parts for space stations.
Kushner's property is in the Shawangunk Ridge area, a major rock-climbing destination. He drew his inspiration for the design of the house and pool from the unique rock formation in the area, so both are quite irregular in shape. The house will be nestled into a cliff, partially jutting out over thin air and overlooking the pool, which will sit at the base of the steep incline. Surely, this feature will make the 3D printing of the structure more of a challenge.
As for this massive project's logistics, site work has already begun. A D-Shape printer from Italy is due to arrive in New York in January 2015. Phase 1 of the project will be the 3D printing of the in-ground swimming pool, which will begin when weather permits in the early spring. Kushner says this will be the simplest part of the endeavor because no reinforcing is needed. He hopes to move to phase 2, construction of the pool house, by early next fall. Given that the structure will have a roof, Kushner will need to add some type of reinforcing material to the concrete mix -- which we'll cover below -- to add strength. He's considering a few ideas -- such as fiber, steel shavings, or aluminum strands -- and plans to tinker with his ideas once the printer arrives.
The final phase will be the 3D printing of the 2,400-square-foot house. Kushner's aiming to start this phase in the spring or summer of 2016, which will give him additional time to tinker with the D-Shape printer. His main goal is to modify the printer so that it will be able to install rebar -- short for "reinforcing bar," and also sometimes known as "reinforcing steel" -- into the mix, as the portions of the house that need reinforcing are being printed. If successful, this accomplishment should help 3D printing revolutionize construction -- at least certain types of construction.
The D-Shape 3D printing technology and its advantages
The D-Shape technology uses a patented magnesium-based binding process to adhere sand or other construction materials together to form an artificial sandstone. The stone produced is reportedly indistinguishable from real marble, chemically environmentally friendly, and has a resistance and traction superior to portland cement. Kushner plans to source aggregate from the local area to use for his material.
With a build box of 6 x 6 x 6 meters, or about 19.7 x 19.7 x 19.7 feet, the D-Shape printer is reportedly the world's largest 3D printer. Kushner's house is considerably larger than the approximate 400-square-foot structure that can be built within this build box, so he's designing the house so it can be printed in sections.
Why would architects and contractors want to use the D-Shape 3D printing process rather than traditional building construction techniques?
Two primary reasons are the same reasons that many manufacturers in various industries are rapidly embracing 3D printing: increased design freedom and financial savings. Constructing a house, or other structure, using 3D printing allows for more advanced and intricate designs, some of which would be considerably more challenging or impossible to construct using traditional building techniques. Additionally, the "realization costs of D-Shape structures are 30%-50% lower than manual methods," according to D-Shape's website.
Furthermore, increased safety is a factor. The construction industry has one of the highest incidents of injuries and mortalities. Automating much of the building process means a substantially reduced risk of accidents.
If these advantages are, indeed, eventually realized, it's easy to understand why Kushner fervently believes that "3D printing will result in a paradigm shift in the way we design and build structures."
3D printing has made amazing advances in recent years, and is well on its way to revolutionizing manufacturing. Now, 3D printing could be on the cusp of doing the same in the $7.2 trillion global construction industry. If Kushner and team's groundbreaking project is successful, it could kick-start the adoption of 3D printing as a mainstream building technology.
Beth McKenna has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of 3D Systems and Stratasys. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.