Selected HDB projects to integrate 3D printed components

Faced with pressure and challenges in manpower and resources, as well as the need to uncover better ways of working, the Housing & Development Board (HDB) is set to experiment with concrete 3D printing technology to increase the probability of unconventional designs and improve productivity.

The process removes the need for moulds or formworks, allowing objects with “intricate detail or geometric forms that would be near impossible to create with traditional methods,” said HDB.

Besides the gain of greater flexibility and free play in designs for construction architects and designers, there is also less reliance on manual labour because of advanced automation.

To get an idea of how concrete 3D printing works, imagine a gigantic FDM 3D printer that extrudes concrete instead of plastic filament. (Photo: Alphonsus Chern)

HDB successfully printed a room measuring 3.6 x 3 x 2.75m in 13 hours back in August, with a 3D printer that is billed as the largest in South-east Asia with a build size of 9 x 3.5 x 3.8m. After manual inserting steel reinforcement bars into the structure, fitting of windows, and a door, the whole process of building up a 3D printed room took about 6 days.

Traditionally, it would take more than 2 months to build a similar room using precast production. The task of fabricating the precast mold alone would take up 2 months, and this does not include the time that will take for designing it. Molds will also lose form over a period of time, and they are usually costly to fabricate. But with 3D printing, molds are not required.

For a start, selected HDB projects at Tengah and Bidadari will see the trial of smaller components used in precinct designs such as landscape furniture and architectural features in common areas.

Demonstration of the 3D printer at HDB Centre of Building Research in Woodlands. (Photo: Alphonsus Chern)

Minister for National Development, Lawrence Wong, noted that while the use of the 3D printer is costly at present, he is looking at the technology being a game-changer in the industry if the costs can come down in the coming years.

As this area of 3D printing is still relatively new, HDB will continue to work with industry professionals at their Woodlands research centre to assess and explore the potential.