3D Printing: Framing the Future

Could three-dimensional (3D) printing be the technology of the future for Hawai‘i’s building industry?

Black Buffalo 3D, which produces large-scale 3D construction printers using a ready-mix cement “ink” to print buildings while on a job site, recently launched a project described as “the world’s biggest and most ambitious 3D home construction undertaking to date.”

Virginia-based client, Alquist 3D, kicked off construction on the first of what is expected to be 200 homes built using the technology in April 2022, following completion of the “first owner-occupied 3D printed home” by the company last year.

Projects like Alquist’s are spurring developers, contractors, higher education professionals and government agencies worldwide to explore the potential of the technology. Black Buffalo was also invited to exhibit 3D-printed housing walls and its modular NEXCON 3D construction printer at a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development event in Washington, D.C. last June.

“There is so much demand right now, [as] the cost of lumber, nails, supplies, finishing for siding and different materials shot up like crazy over the past couple of years,” says Peter Cooperman, Black Buffalo head of marketing and strategy. “Our printer replaces framing and walls, inner and outer. Now you can basically just bring a 3D printer and ready-mix on-site.”

While 3D-printing construction reduces expenses and jobsite labor, its sustainability adds more value. 

Tim Murphy, Black Buffalo’s head of business development, says: “Our printers naturally use less product. We only print what we need. We use one to two full garbage cans of wasted concrete, maximum, per build, whereas a stick-built structure creates one to two tons of waste.”

The ink’s various fibers and polymers reduce the concrete’s footprint, and will soon be improved with hempcrete and other biomass particles, Murphy says.

“The compression strength in our concrete doesn’t just account for how hard it is, but also for how long it’s going to last,” says Murphy. “We are at a point where a massive amount of construction is going to happen and as we make the economics of it work, we are going to drive a massive change in the total sustainability factor of the entire industry.”

Black Buffalo 3D products are manufactured in South Korea, but the company plans to bring operations to the U.S. in the near future.

— Andy Beth Miller

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