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NEWS FEATURE 19 COMMENT


David McWilliams (L) is partner and Frank Harner (R) is associate at intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers


COULD 3D PRINTING SOLVE THE HOUSING CRISIS?


Despite signs of progress, 3D-printing technology has yet to realise its full potential in the housebuilding sector – so what is holding it back? David McWilliams and Frank Harner explain further.


ollowing this year’s Autumn Budget announcement, it is clear that the Government has set its sights on alleviating the current housing crisis. At least £44bn has been allocated to capital funding, loans and guarantees to support the UK’s housing market over the next five years. The Government has also pledged to provide an average of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. While this is an important step, it may also be time to invest in the development of innovative methods of construction, such as 3D printing. The question is, how viable is this emerging technology, and could it become a mass-market alternative to traditional construc- tion methods.


F


3D printing or additive manufacturing was, until recently, considered an expensive processing method, which was only viable in a relatively small number of industrial applications. This is partly because the majority of patents used to protect 3D-printing technology in recent times were held by the


American company, Stratasys; barring opportunities for other innovators to develop it further. Some of the most essential patents expired in 2013 and 2014, however, prompting a surge in new patent applications and entrepreneurial businesses using 3D-printing technology more widely. One of these newcomers is Apis Cor, established in 2014. The business has recently demonstrated its capabilities by 3D printing an entire house onsite within 24 hours close to Moscow. The entire envelope of the building was printed onsite using layers of concrete mix, deposited one on top of the other by an automatic nozzle. The windows, roof, piping, and all other elements were then added manually. On completion of the envelope, the printer, which weighs two tonnes, was lifted from the structure by a crane manipulator. While such rapid construction methods might seem like the perfect way to address the housing shortage, there are still a number of important barriers to overcome before 3D printing can


SOME OF THE ESSENTIAL PATENTS EXPIRED IN 2013/2014, PROMPTING A SURGE IN NEW BUSINESSES


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