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NEW DELHI : Three years ago, Chennai startup Tvasta Manufacturing Solutions showcased a 500-sq ft house that had been built with a 3D printer in 21 days. In April, it unveiled another, a 600 sq. ft, one-storey, 1bhk house, again harnessing 3D printing technology.

This one took all of five days to build.

Now, experts believe 3D printing technology can help solve India’s housing shortage by delivering completed homes in a fraction of the time and money taken in traditional construction.

“We are trying to construct a 500 sq. ft house in under a week," said Vidyashankar C, co-founder and chief operating officer (COO) of Tvasta Manufacturing, who raised 3 crore from Habitat for Humanity, a global organization working on solving the housing problem.

He did not say how much the Chennai home cost.

The problem in scaling up—and India’s housing shortage is gigantic—is that there are only a handful of companies who are building 3D printed homes.

But Vidyashankar believes a lot of 3D printed structures will come up across the southern parts of the country. His startup is focusing only on construction for big building groups, and is currently building a 5,000 to 6,000 sq. ft structure in Puducherry for commercial use.

The use of 3D printers in India is coming of age. It’s no longer limited to just building components for the automotive and aviation sector. During the peak pandemic months, they were used to build valves for ventilators and face shields.

Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is a process where three-dimensional objects are created from a digital representation by putting layer after layer of printing material. Typically, the material used in 3D printing is made of plastic or metal. A special type of concrete is used for housing projects.

Among traditional construction companies, Larsen and Toubro (L&T) has made some inroads with a couple of 3D printed houses. It showcased a prototype of a two-storey house earlier this year at its Kanchipuram facility near Chennai using a large-format 3D printer supplied by Danish firm Cobod.

A 2020 report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) said housing shortage in urban India had grown by 54% to 29 million in 2018 from 18.78 million in 2012.

Across the world, three billion people will need improved housing by 2030, for which 96,000 new homes will have to be built every day, estimated the World Economic Forum.

Swapnil Sansare, founder of Divide by Zero Technologies, a Mumbai-based 3D printing company, said the technology can also be useful for constructing small buildings or facilities in rough terrain with minimum labour.

Sansare, who has been in talks with construction companies that wanted prototypes of 3D printers, said such companies can build homes much faster than traditional methods by using additive manufacturing.

Vidyashankar said, “Traditional construction faces a lot of challenges. Construction practices are outdated. 3D printing can make a big difference in terms of optimization and efficiency. It can open new designs and bring a paradigm shift from a user experience point of view."

Vidyashankar also explained that the cost of financing alone makes it lucrative to 3D-print houses. It is likely to be more affordable because of the shapes and unique design that 3D printing allows as compared to conventional methods.

“3D printed houses will be up to 30% cheaper than conventionally constructed houses," he said.

One factor that has helped Tvasta reduce costs is having complete control over the value chain. The startup has its manufacturing facility in Bengaluru and it builds everything in-house, including raw materials, printers, software and processes.

That said, the technology has some limitations, and building large houses or multi-storeyed apartments for commercial use can be a challenge.

“Building a multi-storey building using 3D printing alone is not happening anytime soon. Some of the companies outside India that claim to have built multi-storeyed buildings have built a hybrid. They create a scaffold and put the 3D-printed house on top of that. That scaffold is developed using traditional processes," Sansare explained.

But that doesn’t mean the smaller homes built with 3D printers lack durability or are unsafe. According to Sansare, these single-storey houses are durable and safe for living. To ensure its 3D printed houses are as structurally robust as a traditional house, Vidyashankar said his company has followed all the protocols that exist for traditional homes.

“The civil engineering department of IIT-Madras has been very helpful in this regard. We are also working with the Central Building Research Institute (CBRI) and Council Of Scientific And Industrial Research-Structural Engineering Research Centre of the government of India to get all the approvals and certifications that are required," he added.

For now, Tvasta will focus on building structures in Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. However, it plans to build structures in Coorg and Kashmir next year to show how well the technology works in the toughest of terrains. Vidyashankar hopes his company will complete 25,000-30,000 sq. ft of construction next year and 150,000-200,000 sq. ft the year after.

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