If you’ve been following the 3D printing industry for at least the past four years, you may remember the 3D Print Canal House. Launched by architecture firm DUS Architects, this Dutch project was meant to see the construction of the first 3D-printed house. What you may be less familiar with is Aectual, an additive construction company spun out of DUS to pursue 3D printing-specific projects.
Flooring made by Aectual, 3D printed with a bioplastic and filled with a terrazzo of recycled granite or marble. (Image courtesy of Aectual.)
While Aectual engages in some practices similar to others in the additive construction space, there are some standout features of the company, aside from its unique team. Not only does the firm use plastic as its printing material, but Aectual also goes beyond 3D printing walls and 3D prints floors, as well.
To learn more about the firm, we interviewed Aectual’s co-founder and chief commercial officer, Hedwig Heinsman.
In 2014, the 3D Print Canal House first broke ground in Amsterdam, where the team worked to create what was billed at the time as the “world’s first 3D-printed house.” Using a large-scale fused filament fabrication 3D printer with a build volume of 2m x 2m x 3.5m, the firm began 3D printing test components before moving on to architectural elements.
3D-printed façade created by DUS Architects for the temporary Europe Building for the EU. (Image courtesy of DUS Architects.)
While that project is underway, a number of other projects have been completed, including a tiny home meant to showcase how 3D printing can be used to create temporary housing or disaster-relief shelters.
According to Heinsman, Aectual was born directly from the 3D Print Canal House project. The ongoing research and requests from architects and designers from all over to world asking for collaborations led to the start of a new firm, Aectual. It really functions as a platform, enabling other designers to design and produce 3D-printed building products in an easy manner.
The 3D-printed micro-cabin contains 25 cubic meters of space and is made out of a plastic developed with partner Henkel. (Image courtesy of DUS Architects.)
Heinsman affirmed that the 3D Print Canal House research project is still happening. The Canal House is anticipated to be completed in 2018 at 700m2 in size. The site will be made up of a café and exhibition area, 3D-printing facilities and workshop areas.
“The 3D Print Canal House research project was always meant to be a temporary project, but we managed to find a permanent site. Plans are being made for the final permanent building,” Heinsman said.
Heinsman explained that Aectual is focused on three product verticals, from design to construction—floors, walls and façade panels—and 3D-printed molding for the creation of concrete elements.
On the left, an XL 3D printer used to 3D print floor patterns. On the right, 3D-printed floors filled with terrazzo. (Images courtesy of Aectual.)
“The first product we launched is Aectual Floors, a sustainably produced 3D-printed floor with terrazzo infill. We chose flooring because it allows us to share the opportunities of this technology in an accessible manner with a large audience. With our smart technology, we make it possible to custom 3D print any design on large surfaces, where each square meter is unique.”
For Japanese store Loft, DUS and Aectual produced exclusively 3D-printed furniture. (Image courtesy of DUS Architects.)
The company’s first floor was a 600m2 piece installed at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in 2017. To print the floors, Aectual relied on a platform developed by the European Regional Development Fund. The system is made up of industrial robotic arms, set on tracks, along with specialized software.
The terrazzo for the floors is made up of recycled granite or marble chips and a binding agent. As for the 3D-printing materials, Heinsman said, “We co-develop specific materials for each specific product. Our bio plastic is well-suited for interior products, as well as for bespoke 3D-printed mold work for concrete products, such as staircases. We also work with waste plastics, which have excellent hard-wearing qualities, making it great as a façade material, for instance.”
The Benefits of 3D Printing
The most obvious advantage that 3D-printing floors and other elements brings is the ability to construct unique and custom designs for clients. Since all of the products are made on-demand for a given project and are done so additively, it’s possible to create novel patterns and complex geometries.
Heinsman pointed out that 3D printing is actually a faster process for fabricating components.
“Generally, construction is slow, costly, polluting and not very flexible,” he said. “3D printing offers a fast, affordable and clean solution that always fits. We offer tailor-made production, on demand, in large numbers. And, we produce fast. We can go from sketch to 1:1 prototype in a matter of days.”
Aectual suggests that by 3D-printing architectural elements, it is able to reduce the carbon footprint associated with construction. This is in part due to cutting waste through the additive manufacturing process and the materials the company uses.
“The AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry is one of the largest producers of CO2. Over 40 percent of all CO2 is produced by the AEC industry, and over 20 percent of all materials used in the AEC industry end up as waste during the building process,” Heinsman said. “By virtually eliminating all waste in the printing process, we can already significantly reduce the amount of CO2. Since printing is an additive technology, we only use the materials we need. With our advanced robotic and software technology, we can produce tailor-made objects at an industrial scale. Furthermore, our printing materials are plant-based or made of waste plastics, and, as such, offer an alternative to fossil (non-renewable) resources and a solution to plastic waste.”
It is worth noting that even though bioplastic like cornstarch-based polylactic acid may not be made from fossil fuels, the cultivation of corn for the creation of biodegradable plastic requires a great deal of land, can cause soil erosion and may require the use of pesticides. Fortunately, printed objects that are no longer needed can be shredded and reused. Aectual’s use of waste plastics, however, does not come with the same nuanced footprint since it goes directly from waste into reuse.
As for regulations, the company develops its products with regulations in mind.
“We focus on expanding our product portfolio ‘one product at a time,’ really engineering and developing the products throughout, meeting all regulations,” Heinsman explained. “With the help of our software, our products can be easily designed to meet local regulations and building code.”
As Aectual engages in a number of projects, the firm sees the only disadvantage to the use of 3D printing in construction is scale.
“At our factory, we currently have four XL printers running almost 24/7, and we need to scale up in order to meet demands,” Heinsman said.
In other words, the firm is still growing, so there will be plenty more to see from Aectual.