Frequently Asked Questions
3D concrete printing (“3DCP”), also known as additive manufacturing, is a method of fabricating houses, buildings, or construction components in completely new shapes not previously possible with traditional concrete formwork. This is accomplished by computer-controlled extrusion of a cementitious material, layer by layer, following a digital design converted to printing instructions for the 3D concrete robot printer.
The construction of houses, buildings and other structures using concrete has been around since the time of the Romans. Throughout history, concrete structures have been built using essentially the same method: forms, reinforcement, mixing, pouring, setting, demolding, repeat. This conventional process is costly, time-consuming, and taking an increasingly negative toll on the global environment because of its carbon-intensive makeup. The construction of the forms alone demands dozens of workers and requires a substantial amount of lumber, keeping labor and materials costs high. Builders might save some time using prefabricated concrete blocks, but such materials are not appropriate for every construction project and carry their own expenses. For the first time in history, builders have an alternative to traditional concrete construction methods that, due to the automated 3DCP process and use of stronger, lighter, more eco-friendly composite materials, can dramatically reduce build-time and the cost of materials and labor, increase jobsite safety, and enable the production of structures with geometric complexity not previously possible with conventional concrete formwork.
A robot arm-style printer can be either fixed or mobile and has a print area that is defined by the circular reach of its extendable arm from its base. It also has 6-axis movement capability which enables it to print complex geometries. If the robotic arm is mounted on a mobile platform, it can extend the print area by moving from one location to another on the outside or inside of the structure being printed. Because a robotic arm has 6-axis movement plus the potential for mobility, it has flexibility to print complex geometries that gantry-style printers would have difficulty with. Because robotic arm-style printers arrive at the construction site fully assembled, the setup time is minimal.
A gantry-style 3D concrete printer has a three-dimensional rectangular frame (x, y, and z axes) within which the printer can slide along the x and y axes and print the desired structure. The print area is confined to the area that is inside the gantry frame. Setup and disassembly of the gantry-style printer at the construction site is far more complex, labor intensive, and time-consuming than a robotic arm-style printer. Setup typically requires a poured concrete foundation and concrete anchors or rails for the base of the gantry platform. A crane and other heavy equipment are typically required for setup and tear-down. Gantry-style printers are also typically more expensive and more difficult to transport to and from the construction site due to their large size and weight.
X-Hab 3D plans to both sell its printer systems and provide a leasing option, accompanied by a complete service and support package.
X-Hab 3D is taking orders now for its fixed and mobile printer system deliveries in the first half of 2023.
X-Hab 3D’s agile and expeditionary approach reduces the need for site preparation, heavy equipment, and local infrastructure, resulting in significant savings in time and cost of construction. It also enables construction in remote areas where supporting equipment and infrastructure is not available.
We support customer building code requirements to the extent feasible, particularly when our 3DCP construction material and design and engineering plans are used, recognizing that most building codes are established and enforced at the state and local levels and vary from one jurisdiction to another. X-Hab 3D recommends that customers engage a local structural engineer to work with local regulators from the outset of the project to ensure that the design and engineering plans are aligned with code requirements.
The printed homes are expected to last as long or longer than standard Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU) built homes, which is about 100 years. The homes are built to the International Building Code (IBC) structural code standard.
The foundation can either be printed or poured, depending on the circumstances. Whether to print vs. pour is a case-by-case, cost/benefit analysis decision.
X-Hab 3D’s 3DCP construction material can be varied in strength depending upon the customer’s requirements. As a starting point, its baseline material is as strong, if not stronger, than traditionally mixed concrete. Additionally, the patterns used by X-Hab 3D in the print process are designed and engineered to result in a structure that is stronger than the same structure if it were constructed with poured concrete.
One of X-Hab 3D’s primary focus areas is the development of low-carbon, eco-friendly 3DCP construction material that uses locally sourced, recyclable resources for the aggregate. X-Hab 3D’s concrete mixtures are a blend of sand, gravel, rock, and possibly other locally sourced materials, along with low-carbon, eco-friendly cementitious additives engineered to meet or exceed the compression, tensile, and flexural strength requirements for the structure being printed and allowing for dynamic design, sturdiness, sustainability, and durability. X-Hab 3D will continue to innovate in this area to develop lighter, stronger, more flexible, durable, sustainable materials that can be recycled for re-use at the end of the structure’s operational life.
X-Hab 3D is developing its own proprietary admixture to be combined with locally sourced aggregate for optimum performance. However, X-Hab 3D does not require customers to use its material.
X-Hab 3D has a complete training program for the setup, operation, and maintenance of its printer system, along with a complete and growing set of courses developed in collaboration with Penn State for design, engineering, and printing, and setup, operation, and maintenance of the 3DCP system.
X-Hab 3D provides 24/7 technical support for its customers.
3D concrete printers range in weight from about 3,500 kg for X-Hab 3D’s mobile robotic arm-style printer, to more than 19,000 kg for Black Buffalo’s NexCon printer, according to the information on its website.
X-Hab 3D’s robotic arm-style printer needs only a forklift to load the silo with construction material. A water truck and generator will also be required if water and power are not already available on site. A gantry-style printer requires a heavy-lift crane to setup and disassemble the gantry frame on site, as well as a cement truck to pour the foundation and anchor pads for stabilizing the gantry frame before the setup process can begin.
It takes two people less than an hour to set up and test X-Hab 3D’s mobile printer system prior to commencing the printing process. The setup process includes connecting the mobile printer, controller, mixing pump and silo (with construction mix), adding power and water, and positioning properly onsite.
X-Hab 3D’s mobile robotic printer arrives at the construction site fully assembled, so it can be ready to print within an hour of arriving at the site.
While some component parts of X-Hab 3D’s robotic-arm 3D concrete printer need to be periodically replaced due to normal wear and tear, in most cases such parts are relatively inexpensive and readily available. The life expectancy of the robotic arm and mixer-pump systems can range from five to 20 years or more, depending on the operating conditions and care of service. Periodic software upgrades to the control system can keep the robotic printing system current with expanded capabilities.
X-Hab 3D’s robotic printer is built to perform in the most difficult environments.
Yes, that is precisely the way X-Hab 3D’s expeditionary printer system works. The robotic arm is mounted on a continuous track mobile platform, allowing it to extend the print area by moving from one location to another, with millimeter-scale accuracy, on either the outside or the inside of the structure being printed.