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Jaime-Lee Gardner
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Louise Martin
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How far is South Africa from its first 3D home?

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How far is South Africa from its first 3D home?

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2 min read

Nearly 12 million people in South Africa do not have adequate housing and the government’s plan to build more than 2 million homes over the next ten years will be significantly hampered by the national lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As with every other industry, South Africa’s property sector has been forced to think outside the box when it comes to new technologies like 3D printing.

In some parts of the world, the technology has already been implemented with universal success. Last year, the Ramdani family became the first in the world to move into a four-bedroom 3D printed house in Nantes, France.

Their 95 square metre (1,022 square foot) house has curved walls to reduce the effects of humidity, and digital controls for the disabled, and took just under 55 hours to print. Contractors took an additional four months to add things like windows, doors and a roof, and the total cost came in at approximately £176,000 (R3.7 million) – about 20% cheaper than an identical home that used traditional construction methods.

Aside from France, other countries in Europe as well as the UK and America have also begun to embrace 3D technology to solve their housing issues. American specialists have even managed to print a fully operational home in under a day.

On the African continent, the city of Ben Guerir in Morocco was the first to house a 3D printed home, thanks to Spanish manufacturer Be More 3D, who printed the 32 square metre house in just 12 hours.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of a 3D printed house in South Africa was exactly that – an idea. However, the pandemic has highlighted that 3D printed homes in South Africa may not be as far off as we once thought.

In fact, the country has already achieved phenomenal strides with the use of 3D printing technology, especially in the medical field. The University of Pretoria has pioneered the world’s first middle ear transplant using 3D printed middle ear bones. More recently, 3D printing has been used to help address significant shortfalls in personal protection equipment for frontline healthcare professionals.

Developments in the construction sector may be a little slower, but they are still happening, with some South African companies already experimenting with the idea of printing concrete to help accelerate the construction process.

However, the biggest issue lies with practicality and costs. Labour and material costs tend to be far more expensive in developed countries, which makes 3D printed homes more worthwhile. In contrast to this, in South Africa, the biggest advantage of a 3D printed home is that it saves on time, and this far outweighs the cost factor. If we look at the cost of the Ramdani home as an example, the South African rand equivalent is far higher than the standard home in the country – yet for France, it is substantially cheaper.

Three-dimensional technology requires costly investment too, as well as a higher than average skill set, which South Africa still needs to develop. Although universities like Stellenbosch and the Vaal University of Technology are investing heavily in the in technology, it will be a while before it this technology can be matched to the local talent pool.

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