Case Study: QOROX 3D printing technology
QOROX's innovative 3D printing technology can be adapted to improve productivity in the construction sector.
It can be difficult for suppliers with new and innovative products to enter the construction market. There are barriers to innovation, such as getting funding and growing to the scale, that’s required to achieve similar costs to traditional methods of construction. Construction is also an industry that is notoriously resistant to change – particularly in moving away from tested methods and adopting new technologies. However, innovation has an important part to play in increasing productivity in the sector.
One innovative supplier, QOROX, has proven how 3D printing technology can be adapted to improve productivity in the construction sector – including building the first hybrid timber and concrete house with 3D printed concrete walls in New Zealand. Key to this achievement is hard work, determination and having clients who are willing to adopt new technologies and work together to create new solutions to challenges in the sector.
"New Zealand has a productivity issue - we work 7% to 10% more hours and have 8% less productivity than the OECD average. Innovation is vital to increase our productivity and as an industry we need to overcome barriers like risk aversion, limited potential for scaling and funding challenges.
"This Beacons case study is about QOROX's journey to overcoming these barriers. Meeting our climate goals while overcoming a housing crisis will require new ways of doing things, and the next generation plan for the Accord will place a lot more emphasis on supporting innovators to breakthrough." Alison Murray, Director - Construction Procurement Transformation.
QOROX case study video
Project goal: To introduce their new product, 3D printed concrete, into the New Zealand construction sector.
Applies to: Suppliers looking to bring new products or technology to market in New Zealand, or clients and designers looking to incorporate new technologies into their projects.
- Increase productivity
- Increase productivity
- Improve resilience.
- Working in a collaborative and inclusive way
- Fostering innovation, research and development.
- Ongoing development and expansion of the technology.
Beacon monitoring process: The Beacons team will monitor adoption of the new technology and find lessons for others in the sector to follow when introducing innovations into the New Zealand construction sector.
Two projects solving different problems
QOROX partnered with Dutch-owned construction technology firm, CyBe Construction, to provide access to the hardware and software for 3D printed concrete to be manufactured in New Zealand. Below are two of the projects that QOROX has developed since introducing the technology to the New Zealand construction sector.
Auckland Council street furniture
Auckland Council were completing a number of urban streetscape developments on Emily Place and Sale Street, but because of supply chain issues relating to COVID-19, the street furniture products experienced increased costs and some delays.
Auckland Council discovered QOROX through Hamilton City Council that used the technology for some of its park benches. The technology solved the cost and time issues they were facing and enabled a unique design to be developed. The design allowed the stools to be manufactured hollow and filled with old car tyres – lowering costs even further and reducing carbon and waste.
Huia Bay private house development
After seeing QOROX showcase its technology in the media, Steve Bell approached QOROX to construct his house in Huia Bay, West Auckland. It’s the first project of its kind in New Zealand, using 3D printed technology to create concrete loadbearing walls. The walls are printed in the factory as hollow core panels, then delivered to site and infilled with steel reinforcement and concrete once in position.
From leaving the factory to completing the installation, the process took five days. QOROX are already looking at reducing that time following lessons learnt on the project. The wall required less than half a day of mobile scaffolding to fill the concrete. A traditional block wall approach would have required up to four weeks installation time on site and full scaffolding during that time. The technology also meant the design could incorporate curved geometries and patterns with a high degree of control.
Transferring most of the construction of the walls to off-site manufacturing meant less labour-intensive activity on site, which reduced labour demand, lowered health and safety risks of working at height and delivered a high-quality finished product.
Early in the development process, QOROX invested in an intensive product testing process with the Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ), giving confidence to both the client and the Building Consent Authority that 3D printed walls could deliver the same performance under the New Zealand Building Code as more traditional approaches.
In testing the 3D technology, QOROX initially had to import most of the materials from overseas to develop a mix that would allow the concrete to rapidly harden as it was being printed. To develop a viable product that could be used at scale in New Zealand, the company needed to develop a concrete mix that could be sourced with materials from within the country. This would provide clients with confidence in having a reliable source of materials and help to minimise transportation costs and environmental impact.
QOROX received invaluable support from Callaghan Innovation, which provided funding to help develop the New Zealand concrete mix and connected QOROX with stakeholders in the construction industry. QOROX engaged with BRANZ, Auckland University and industry experts to develop a roadmap for testing, compliance and adaptation of the technology for the market.
The Huia Bay project had already gained a building consent for traditional masonry walls. When Steve, the owner, decided to use 3D printed walls instead, QOROX, the design team and the builder reached out to Auckland Council seeking an amendment to the existing consent.
"My architect became enthusiastic in time, my builder was happy for me to take the risk and we engaged with the building inspectors, who agreed that it would be treated as a minor variation. The engineering company was engaged to reassess the engineering based on replacing concrete blocks for the 3D printed walls.
"I understand that something that is very new will create concern and that the building inspectors will tend to be risk averse. We were asked to get a peer review on the engineering report and of course all of this has a cost impact. We've had our share of learning opportunities, but I have had confidence all the way through that we are going to get an awesome feature in our house. Steve Bell, owner of Huia Bay project.
QOROX took an incremental approach to innovation by adopting new technology to achieve an approach that is not dissimilar to that of pre-cast wall panels, which have been used extensively in the construction sector. However, the benefit of a 3D printed approach is that it removes the need for expensive moulds required for pre-cast wall panels. 3D printed panels are also similar to the traditional formwork solution used for concrete, but they can have a permanent and attractive appearance that becomes part of the final structure.
To trial the technology on a real project, QOROX actively sought out forward-thinking early adopters and found local councils that were willing to innovate. In the current market, rising inflation and ongoing supply issues to source traditional building materials has also driven smaller construction firms and architects to consider alternative methods.
Outcomes and benefits
Compared with traditional construction methods, 3D printing can reduce building times and waste. A wall measuring 2.5m (length) x 2.6m (height) x 0.25m (depth) with a surface area of 6.5sqm can be printed in approximately 60 minutes. As the printers themselves are mobile, outputs can be manufactured in the factory and transported to site, or even manufactured directly on site.
Reduced demand for labour and training
Training requirements for 3D printed concrete are minimal compared to more traditional construction methods. Training a brick and block layer can take anywhere between two to three years. By contrast, an operator is fully trained to use the printing equipment after four weeks of training. No previous machinery experience is required, however QOROX has typically employed people who have come from the building trade.
No specialist software for the design team
Architects and designers that submit designs to be printed also don't need to learn to use specialist software. QOROX works with DWG or DXF drawing files, so they just need to become familiar with the new type of construction process.
Improved quality of construction
Construction is delivered straight from the drawing to the 3D printer. A high degree of quality can be achieved and checked before the construction begins. More elaborate geometries can be used as well as intricate detail to create a pre-finished aesthetic.
Reduced labour and materials demand
The technology has the same opportunity to reduce the labour required on site as other off-site approaches. If adopted as a pre-finished product, like the Huia Bay project, it removes the need for some further tradespeople.