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NEW DELHI : India’s defence infrastructure development agency MES (military engineering services), has built two houses in South-Western Air Command, Gandhinagar and Jaisalmer, tapping 3D rapid construction technology from the private sector. The use of 3D printers by the Indian military is, however, not confined to houses alone.

“They are asking us to make bunkers and parking facilities for military vehicles in border areas where traditional construction is challenging due to harsh weather conditions and short supply of labour due to the threat from hostile neighbours," Vidyashankar C, co-founder and chief operating officer, Tvasta Construction, the Chennai-based firm which built the 3D printed structures, said in an interview.

Incubated at the Institute of Technology-Madras, Tvasta, which had raised 3 crore from non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity in October, was one of the first to successfully develop a one-storey 3D printed house that met protocols for traditional houses.

The startup has been working with state-owned Central Building Research Institute and Structural Engineering Research Centre for approvals to ensure that the 3D printed structures are safe to live in.

The 3D printed houses for the Indian Air Force (IAF) were deployed within 35 days, while traditional construction would have taken six months, Vidyashankar said.

The quick turnaround time is a key driver for increasing interest in 3D printing technology, he added.

“Government organizations have shown a lot of interest in the use of 3D printing for the defence and railways sectors," said Swapnil Sansare, founder and chief executive of Mumbai-based 3D printer manufacturer Divide by Zero.

Discussions are on at many levels to ensure the feasibility and sustainability of the technology to build houses, bunkers and emergency structures, he said.

The company is working with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on some projects, Sansare said, without disclosing details.

Such 3D printed structures allow greater flexibility in designing.

For instance, the houses built for the IAF by Tvasta are different from the 600-sqft one-bedroom residential unit it had built in IIT Madras campus using 3D printers in April 2021. It was constructed in five days for affordable housing.

However, structures for the armed forces are designed specifically for areas where conditions are hostile. “For the Air Force, we have used a new composite mix and a new design to make it more adaptable to local conditions. The units in Jaisalmer, on the other hand, have a lot of curves to ensure sand deposits are avoided and it does not corrode the material. The material also has anti ultra violet (UV) properties," Vidyashankar said.

The construction of 3D-printed structures is also not labour-intensive. While some parts are printed remotely and then assembled at the site, printers can be set up on-site to print and assemble if required.

Emailed queries to a defence ministry spokesperson on the future deployment of 3D printed houses by armed forces did not elicit any response till press time.

The Indian armed forces are not the only defence organization to explore the use of 3D printed structures.

Last August, the US Army unveiled a 3D-printed 3,800 sqft barrack in Texas that can accommodate 72 people.

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