If you were under the impression that 3D printing technology was only meant to be used for printing outer space BioPods or reusable rockets, we wouldn't judge you. High costs of 3D printing have long meant that the technology is only used for high-end jobs. But the UK-based CDC Group wants to change that notion and recently 3D printed a school in Malawi in just 18 hours. Students are already attending classes in this new building.
UNICEF estimates that in Malawi alone, there is a shortage of 36,000 classrooms. It would take 70 years to address this gap using conventional building methods. But 14 Trees, a joint venture working towards addressing infrastructure needs in Africa, claims that 3D printing technology can close this gap in just 10 years.
14 Trees is a joint venture between UK-based CDC Group and French-Swiss multinational building materials company, Lafarge Holcim. Through this partnership, they want to build affordable housing, schools, and social infrastructure in Africa.
For the printing process, the venture uses LafargeHolcim Ink, which not only reduces the time of construction but also requires fewer materials compared to other ink options. In addition to reducing the cost of construction, it also reduces the environmental footprint by 50 percent, the venture claims.
However, the process is not fully automated. The team uses a large extruder to build the walls of the structure. Skilled, local workers handle the fitting process of doors, windows, roofing, and more. Through its venture, 14 Trees will also create more jobs for the local people and help upskill them.
The school premises, built at record speed, have now been transferred to the local community in the Yambe zone of Salima district. Following the transfer in late June, children have begun attending classes.
"I am very impressed by the new building – its durability and design provide the space and facilities that students did not have before," said Juliana Kuphanga Chikandila, representing the Director of Education, Youth, and Sports in Malawi. Speaking about the school, she said, "It is notably different from the schools being built in the Yambe zone and Salima district and will attract more students, and learners that had left will return to education.”
14 Trees claims, this is the first 3D printed school in the world. Apart from the school, the venture also 3D printed a prototype house in just 12 hours in the Lilongwe area of Malawi.
"Now that we’ve proven the concept in Malawi, we look forward to scaling up this technology across the broader region," said Miljan Gutovic, Region Head of Europe, Middle East, and Africa at Holcim Group. The venture has similar projects in the pipeline in Kenya and Zimbabwe.
A residential project in Germany that used 3D printing took over 10 months to build.