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How 3D printing technology is changing the construction landscape in India

This structure was 3D-printed by Tvasta, an IIT Madras incubated startup
The pandemic has made industries and companies adopt to technology in a manner never seen before. Technology, in fact, has even embraced a resilient sector like construction. 3D printing is slowly but surely finding its feet in the Indian construction sector, with both startups and large firms taking this technology to the market.

It seems India could well see a tug-of-war between startups and traditional construction companies as both start using 3D printing technology to solve the housing shortage issue India is facing. The country has to construct 60 million houses if it wants to fulfill its promise of ‘Housing for all’.

Tvasta, an IIT-Madras incubated startup, which has showcased its 3D printing technology by constructing a house at the campus, is seeing huge traction for its technology. The startup took three years to come up with its own technology, developed indigenously.

Tvasta’s ‘Concrete 3D Printing’ is an automated manufacturing method for constructing three-dimensional real-life structures (at all realisable scales). The technique utilises a Concrete 3D Printer – a Tvasta product – that accepts a computerised two-dimensional design file from the user and fabricates a 3D structure in a layer-by-layer manner by extruding flowable material akin to concrete.

“A Concrete Printing system requires having these factors in place - The Pumpability (movement of material through the delivery system), the Printability (deposition of the material), and the Buildability (resistance of deposited wet material to deformation under load). Tvasta’s Concrete 3D Printer is backed by a variety of sub-technologies that are inherent to the printer, and are in various stages of being patented,” said Vidyashankar C, COO & co-founder, Tvasta.

So far, Tvasta has constructed a total of 20,000-30,000 sq ft and is already in talks to develop about 100,000 sq ft of projects. In a country like India, where the construction industry hasn't been too resilient in tech adoption, Vidyashankar says that the pandemic has brought about a huge demand for such technology. By the end of 2021, the company would have developed a first-of-its-kind 3D-built school in Pondicherry.

“We have been getting a lot of tailwind effect during pandemic. There has been displacement of labour and people have started taking notice of 3D printing in construction. This also brings in added advantage of reducing cost and time. From a labour point of view, a single printer needs four people for a house of 500 sq ft. Once we achieve scale from supply side we can finish a 500 sq ft house in a weeks time,” he added.

The only thing stopping Tvasta to go the full length is funds, which the bootstrapped startup is now thinking of raising to achieve scale.

Larsen & Toubro (L&T) has been working on its 3D technology for over two years and has been engaged in developing a right concrete mix. M V Satish, Whole-time Director & Senior Executive Vice President, L&T shared that the company's 3D printed concrete product is unique because it requires a comprehensive knowledge and control of the 3Ms--material, methodology and methods. For successful large-scale and speedy operations, it is imperative to develop a perfect synergy of the 3Ms, and their seamless integration to the system.

“Additionally, construction projects are executed in an open-to-sky environment, these variables are less in control, therefore requiring setting up of appropriate systems and processes for best results,” said Satish.

Moreover, the absence of conventional formwork systems and high design flexibility offered by 3D printing technology gives architects and design engineers the license to be ‘imagineer’.

“A fully automated construction process will only accelerate the pace, ensuring high build quality and safety. 3D concrete printing is poised to positively disrupt the dynamics and offerings of the affordable and mass housing industry,” added Satish. He is a firm believer that if the ‘Housing for All’ objective has to be met, then technologies like3D printing has to be part of the story.

Unlike Tavsta, L&T is yet to make use of its 3D technology in any of its ongoing projects. “There are still a few design validation processes to be completed. These are currently being addressed through various Indian statutory bodies and research institutions, before commercial viability,” said Satish. However, the company had recently constructed a G+1 building using 3D technology in accordance with Indian CODAL provision for such structures.

According to a JLL article, today’s 3D printers most commonly use a modified cement, but future printers will likely work with a wider range of material, including locally accessible materials that would increase the sustainability of construction. Down the line, 3D printing technology could facilitate the use of new shapes that aren’t accessible to conventional building methods, such as complex curved forms.

“India can lead in the adoption of this technology as well. In India, we are not lacking in technological knowhow, what we lack is the projects that are executed. It is only the Chinese 3D printing that has managed and executed to scale. But these Chinese and US companies have 10 times the funding that we have. In terms of cost, we are much better. Our material solutions, printers are tailor made for India and Indian market,” concluded Adithya VS, CEO & co-founder Tvasta. 

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