The rate at which large corporations are backing additive construction (AC) would seem to suggest that it is indeed a serious technology that will have a significant impact in the medium term, at the very least. The startup that has so far pulled in the most partners at such a level is COBOD International. Now, the Danish manufacturer of large-scale concrete 3D printers is continuing the trend with JGC Holdings Corporation (TYO: 1963), a Japanese conglomerate that has announced a goal of “full-scale introduction” of a newly installed COBOD 3D printer into its construction work.
3D Printing Piping Support for Biomass Plant
In October 2021, the AC equipment was purchased by JGC CORPORATION, responsible for the JGC Group’s overseas engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) business. Now, it is installed at the construction site of a biomass power generation plant that JGC JAPAN CORPORATION is developing for Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, where it has been used to create a piping support structure in June 2022. The company claims that it is “the first Japanese company to apply foundation formwork printed outdoors using locally procured common materials.”
The facility is a demonstration project meant to lead to full-scale introduction of 3D printers into the company’s construction operations. Typically, even “concrete” 3D printing relies on specialty pre-mixed mortars developed specifically for 3D printing. However, COBOD relies on D.fab admixture from Mexican concrete giant CEMEX for its process. This allowed JGC to 3D print with locally available cement and aggregate.
Large Companies Embrace Construction 3D Printing
Nearly 100-years-old, JGC generates revenues of USD$7.3 billion (2015). Born out of its predecessor Japan Gasoline Co., the company largely operates in the design and construction of large energy projects. Examples include Al Zour Refinery, Nigeria LNG, Pearl GTL, Ichthys LNG, Gorgon LNG, Tangguh LNG and Dolphin Gas Project. This last project is described as “the first cross-border refined gas transmission project and the largest energy-related venture ever undertaken in the [Middle East].”
Therefore, it’s unsurprising that JGC is applying AC to an energy plant. However, it is interesting that AC is being used for much more than housing, particularly energy infrastructure. In our article on the Biden administration’s goals for infrastructure in the U.S., we highlighted the place for AC as means of 3D printing concrete elements for a variety of applications. Pieces for energy projects is a key area where this makes sense and is one of the main reasons behind GE’s decision to invest in COBOD. If you can think of any area where concrete may be used for energy infrastructure, there is a place for construction 3D printing.
COBOD has been, so far, the most successful AC startup in the industry, having garnered a number of larger corporate partners and investors. Its investors are made up of the smaller, but still sizable PERI Group, as well as industry giants GE (NYSE: GE), Holcim (SIX: HOLN), and CEMEX (NYSE: CX). It would be easy to imagine a firm like JGC also investing in the Danish startup.
Benefits of Construction 3D Printing for JGC
JGC believes that the COBOD system could significantly reduce formwork construction time, eliminating the need for one-site formwork assembly and demolding. The firm calculated that 3D printing may have cut this process from 16 days down to eight. It also believes that less highly trained personnel could operate the equipment, with training of junior employees taking about one week to accomplish.
Since the demonstration project was completed, the printer was used further to continue evaluating the technology. JGC hopes to reduce manpower requirements, construction time, costs, and the risk of supply chain disruptions associated with procuring overseas materials with AC. Additionally, the Japanese company aims to utilize metallic and resinous materials in construction projects “in collaboration with domestic and overseas companies that possess innovative technologies.”
What is also becoming clear is that AC is not only about automating construction, potentially warding off unrest from workers, but also about re-shoring the material supply chain. This demonstrates that the macro trend that we’re seeing evolve across manufacturing applies to construction, as well. And it all ties into energy prices and the shrinking supply of fossil fuels.