Complex Made Simple

Will 3D printing disrupt the GCC construction sector?

The GCC construction sector needs a disruption that will lead to better waste reduction, faster on-site operations, lower labor costs, and better quality control.

The 3D concrete printing market is expected to grow from $0.3 million in 2017 to $1.48 billion in 2023 A Saudi construction company has purchased the world's largest 3D construction printer Dubai aims to have 25 percent of its new buildings constructed using 3D printing by 2030

The GCC construction industry has more than 27,000 planned projects in the pipeline which add up to about $2.38 trillion. Saudi Arabia and the UAE account for more than two-thirds – $1.61 trillion – of the planned projects as of late-2018, according to data released by BNC Projects Journal.

Although these numbers demonstrate strong construction activity, the BNC data for January 2019 showed GCC construction contracts coping with a 39 percent dip in value terms to $13 billion, with $2.7 billion worth of work put on hold. The recent Deloitte GCC Powers of Construction 2018 report brings to light challenges facing the GCC construction sector. It calls for faster methods of resolving disputes and alternative delivery models. In such an industry, which is struggling to cope with waste reduction and slow on-site operations, 3D printing is slowly finding the spotlight as a welcome disruption.

"3D construction printing with a large mobile gantry printer allows the automation of the construction process on site not seen before. With this automation comes an unprecedented speed of the completion of the walls, which never can be obtained by alternative methods," Henrik Lund-Nielsen, CEO of COBOD International, told AMEinfo. 


3D construction taking shape

The 3D printing concrete industry has shown remarkable growth. According to the 2018 Markets and Markets report, the 3D concrete printing market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 317.3 percent from $0.3 million in 2017 to $1.48 billion in 2023.


Source: Markets and Markets research report

The technology, which can 3D print large structures, offers flexibility in construction designs coupled with enhanced sustainability credentials at lower costs.

Elite for Construction and Development Co., a Saudi Arabian construction company is leading the way. It has purchased the BOD2 3D construction printer, which is described as the world's largest, from Danish company COBOD International. The machine will be the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia, COBOD mentioned in a statement. This purchase is expected to help the kingdom meet its Vision 2030 economic mandate of delivering millions of homes.

"3D printers reduce the amount of manual labor needed to a minimum and significantly speed up the construction process. In 3D printing organic shapes and forms come for free, which means that visually appealing forms can be created without any additional costs, making the build environment much more interesting and appealing. Also for customers requiring a special solution, with 3D printing, it is easy to make custom designs with no extra costs," Henrik Lund-Nielsen, CEO of COBOD International, said. 

This is not the kingdom's first foray into 3D printing. Earlier in March, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Housing approved a deal permitting a local builder to use 3D-printed concrete for its projects. Last November, Saudi Arabia announced the completion of its first 3D-printed house in its capital, Riyadh.

Dubai has also taken a groundbreaking path toward 3D printing in construction. The Emirate aims to have 25 percent of its new buildings constructed using 3D printing by 2030. This is expected to also bring down labor costs, promote the use of recycled plastics, and reduce production durations and material waste. London-based Ai Build signed an agreement with Dubai-based 3DVinci Creations a week ago, which will see the disruptive technology of large-scale 3D printing expand in the UAE.

"The ability to make custom-design and to the extreme mass customization is becoming important as customers want solutions specific to their needs. More and more customers are rejecting standard solutions, want unique solutions, and 3D printing is an effective answer to such requests," Lund-Nielsen said.

3D printing is also helping the construction industry overcome budget overspends, delayed projects, and quality control troubles.