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Breaking new building ground with 3D printed concrete

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Houses built with concrete 3D printing are answering the call to build more climate and flood-resistant homes in New Zealand.

QOROX partner Nick Lane says the technology, which can print a 3m x 3m concrete wall in under an hour, will make the clean up after a flood event considerably less expensive and time-consuming.

“A lot of houses in the February flooding in Auckland were wet up to 400mm above the floor and suffered significant water damage, resulting in people having to rip off plaster board and trying to dry them out. Hawkes Bay homes were even worse,” Lane says.

“Some homes will be red stickered based on flooding alone, without even taking subsidence into account. If these homes were built from concrete, as long as they hadn’t shifted off their foundations, they would only require replacement of furnishings like carpet or furniture instead of receiving structural damage.”

Lane says the ground-breaking new technology is surpassing modular builds in time efficiency and waste reduction.

“It’s a massive game-changer in terms of bringing together innovation, technology and construction. In our mind, it’s going to leave the likes of modular housing and prefab housing for dust,” he said.

While the cost is still higher than a traditional timber house, Lane says concrete will outlast timber by hundreds of years and give the house owner more bang for their buck.

The higher cost of a QOROX build is a key area the team have been working on, targeting a price that is as cost effective as a traditionally built timber house.

Lane says improving QOROX build affordability has also meant working out the best way to avoid shipping costs, which increased by 200% as a result of COVID, and adapting their formula to use less printed concrete without compromising on structural integrity.

“We believe we’re not far off that at the moment,” he says.

The QOROX team has also been working with a German company to develop a mix that is specific to New Zealand.

“Since the robot arrived over three years ago, we’ve been working on a mix that we can use based in New Zealand to create a more sustainable supply chain and reduce shipping costs.

“We’re working with engineers and BRANZ on a new wall design which uses less printed material in our walls. We’re probably about a month away.”

Along with print time-savings, QOROX-built walls reduce the number of on-site steps and speed up the build process, resulting in cost and time-savings.

The fundamentals of building a house have changed little over the decades, relying on manual labour to stack bricks and hammer nails into wooden frames.

“We haven’t changed anything for decades. We have power tools and management software to speed up aspects of it, but we actually take more steps over a building site than we did 40 years ago. Prefab and modular building doesn’t change this,” Lane says.

A 3D printed home, Lane says, will shave at least seven weeks off the standard 200 square metre house build, with increased sustainability and quality of the final product for a similar value to conventional timber framing.

“Using QOROX we’ve printed six sections of walls combining to 15 metres long and three metres high, in under five hours. Within the space of a day and a half, we can have an entire length of wall finished inside and out.”

QOROX material is 80% New Zealand-sourced and the other 20% of the final product, which Lane calls the ‘colonel’s secret spices’, is imported and that compares to around 80% of imported material used in a traditional build.

“It’s very special cement, mixed with a New Zealand recipe of sand and water, and the end-product is about 80% New Zealand made, which in New Zealand construction is very rare.

“Some of our mainstream products that you can literally only buy in New Zealand under that brand, when you dig deeper you find the majority of all that product is imported and it’s only assembled in New Zealand.”

The large amount of silt resulting from the recent weather events led the team to explore how it could be used in their product.

“We could likely only do very small prints, such as outdoor furniture or planters, but it’s not suitable for building structures because it simply can’t stand up to what we need it to.”

One example of small print runs was undertaken in 2020, when Hamilton City Council recruited QOROX to build a Hinaki (eel net) inspired bench in Garden Place, which was completed during a lunchtime demonstration. The park bench was then moved to the Waikato River walk, next to the ANZAC Parade bridge

Lane says in order to utilise the silt, they would need to do large print runs to make it cost effective.

“You can only imagine the amount of street furniture you’d have to produce to be using even a small amount of the silt that’s out there.”

Overseas 3D concrete printers use mud and other natural materials but in New Zealand, Lane says, but they are limited by compliance.

“One of our battles is complying with the building code with a technology that can far exceed it in terms of strength, durability and many other aspects.

“We’re taking this innovative technology and adapting it to create wall structure designs that meet code by literally replicating an existing wall that’s already approved under the code. This technology is capable of unlocking so many more possibilities for the building industry, but we are hamstrung by the code’s rigidity at present.”

But, Lane says, QOROX will continue to invest in R&D with the purpose of making their technology fit to the building code because they know the product can revolutionise the industry.

“The amazing part is not the technology, but within the product itself. Our concrete product has an initial set time of three minutes and a final set time of five minutes.

“After two hours, it’s at the same strength as a masonry block that you would buy off the shelf from the hardware store and at structural strength for construction in just over 24 hours.

“There’s a real science and art in the material itself.”

QOROX regional partnership scheme

Passionate about the future of 3D concrete building, Lane and founder Wafaey Swelim are keen to take the technology further afield.

“Currently our Waikato regional partner Iconic Construction is using the product and QOROX is making the material, but we are ready to bring this tried and tested product to the rest of New Zealand. We can’t limit this innovation to the Waikato when it has so much more potential for the construction industry.”

A QOROX regional partnership scheme will provide opportunities for contractors, builders and civil construction businesses to take the technology on in different regions around the country.

“Our next step is to introduce QOROX to people in the construction sector who are keen on innovative technology and are looking to harness it for their own builds. We have the training, resources, support and processes already in place to set them up for success using the technology,” Lane says.

Not eager to create a QOROX franchise model, the pair want people to have ownership of the technology with QOROX providing support.

“The QOROX technology would be like an excavator is to a contracting business. It’s another tool in the toolbox that contributes to the bigger picture.”

And in the longer game, Nick believes QOROX and its regional partners will be able to tender for large-scale building contracts.

“QOROX will be able to feed work to our partner network to help with their workflow and enable 3D printing to become their core business.”

QOROX History

Based in Hamilton, QOROX was founded by architectural engineer Wafaey Swelim in 2018 and the first 3D printer, called Horus, arrived from the Netherlands in 2020.

When Swelim arrived in 2015 he realised the New Zealand construction industry was behind the eight ball and was a mere juvenile in terms of automation.

Like many things in life, it was a chance meeting that brought Swelim and Lane together.

As well as being the founder and director of Iconic Construction, Lane is also a charter helicopter pilot.

After landing at Pauanui, during a flight of the Coromandel, he happened upon some interesting looking outdoor furniture.

“For some reason I took a photo of the helicopter and in the background were these chairs. I went over to take a closer look and Wafaey came out, and we started chatting.”

Lane says, QOROX were still in the R&D phase and hadn’t completed any large projects yet.

After nearly 20 years in the building game, what Swelim was embarking on with QOROX made sense and Lane was keen to push Iconic into new frontiers.

In 2022, he came on board as the first QOROX regional partner and Iconic is currently constructing the first 3D concrete printed commercial building in the Southern Hemisphere.

The first solar passive house in the world featuring QOROX’s 3D printed concrete walls is currently being constructed in Auckland.

3D printed concrete by QOROX is BRANZ appraised as a replacement for masonry walls or concrete walls and was tested and designed over a two-year period to meet all New Zealand conditions.

Learn more about QOROX’s 3D printed concrete applications in commercial, civil, residential and landscape construction at

www.qorox.co.nz.

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