Winsun: Revolutionizing the Construction Industry with 3D Printing

Winsun is at the forefront of a paradigm shift in the construction industry. Will 3D printing be the default way we build houses in the future?

In 2004, Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of South Carolina built the first 3D printed concrete wall [1]. This breakthrough has led to an explosion of investment in the application and commercialization of 3D Printing in the US$ 10.6 trillion construction industry [2]. In 2013, there were barely 25 start-ups in the field; today there are about 65 offering a range of services throughout the construction value chain [3].

The reason for the increased interest in this sector is that there are a number of advantages this technology could bring versus traditional construction methods, such as lower cost, increased occupational safety, reduced waste and optimization in project schedule [4]. Despite these potential advantages, adoption of 3D printing has been slow. The construction industry is conservative and are deeply entrenched in traditional processes that has not fundamentally changed for many decades in terms of productivity and efficiency [5].

Against this backdrop, Winsun, a construction company based in China, has dedicated itself to developing and utilizing 3D printing technologies in the pursuit of efficient, safe, and sustainable construction.

How to build a house in one day

Yingchuang Building Technique (Shanghai) Co. Ltd, or Winson as it is known in China, was founded in 2003. The company started out as an advanced building material supplier, specializing in complex interior décor. The company made headlines globally in 2014 by printing a batch of ten complete houses. Since then, the company has conducted several bold projects that received widespread media attention, such as printing a stylish office building for the Dubai Future Foundation (Figure 1). It has continued to develop technologies in 3D printing, and now owns 151 patents [6].

Figure 1: Winsun’s 3D printed office for Dubai Future Foundation, inaugurated on May 23, 2016
(Source: Winsun’s website)

Using its 3D printing technology, Winsun has increased productivity and realized significant cost savings. It claims that a standard house can be built for about 30,000 RMB (USD $4,800) in one day [7]. Using a closed loop concept, it can source 50% of the ink material for printing from construction waste or mine tailings, which is environmentally beneficial when compared to traditional construction methods. Furthermore, the printing process minimizes waste from the construction process as Winsun’s modular dry construction method is dust free, which saves Winsun 30-60% of material relative to traditional construction methods [8].

Challenges in scaling up

To date, Winsun has sold more than 100 houses of various types, many of them in Dubai. The Dubai government has also recently contracted Winsun to build 17 office buildings using 3D printing [9]. However, several key challenges has to be addressed in order for the company to achieve its potential.

First, the main barrier facing adoption of 3D printing in construction is the skepticism  of designers, project developers, governments and end-users. In response, Winsun hopes to change the hearts and minds of these stakeholders by investing heavily in producing highly visible complex prototypes. For example, the company is planning to erect a demonstration building more than 100 meters high near Shanghai, with approximately 200,000 square meters of floor space. They have also formed partnerships with several large turnkey construction companies such as AECOM in order to increase the credibility of its technology [10].

Second, there is a lack of clear regulations for 3D printing in the construction industry. The industry abide by a certain set of building codes and procurement standards, and most of these codes and standards make no mention of 3D printing. To address this issue, Winsun is working closely with China’s national construction department to amend existing building codes.

Recommendations

With these challenges in mind, my recommendations are:

  • Shaping the regulatory environment: In addition to working with governments, Winsun should undertake efforts to work with regulatory bodies such as the International Code Council (ICC) in order help shape international building codes and standards.
  • Investment in mobile 3D printing technology: Expand R&D efforts to develop mobile 3D printers for the construction industry. This would enable Winsun to reach smaller, more remote markets which would help increase adoption and potentially develop a licensing business model for Winsun.

Remaining Questions

  • To increase adoption of 3D printing in construction, how might Winsun educate partners (or competitors) across the construction value chain: from architecture, to procurement, to maintenance?
  • Should Winsun continue to focus on its core competency of constructing buildings, or should it expand to other high potential areas of 3D printing, such as industrial goods?

(773 words)

References

[1] Jamie D., “3D Printing: The Future of Construction”, January 31st 2018, https://www.3dnatives.com/en/3d-printing-construction-310120184/ accessed November 2018

[2] Global Construction Outlook to 2022, July 17th 2018, https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/global-construction-outlook-to-2022-102737549, accessed November 2018

[3] Laubier R., Wunder M., Witthoft S., Rothballer C., “Will 3D Printing Remodel the Construction Industry?”, January 23rd 2018. https://www.bcg.com/en-us/publications/2018/will-3d-printing-remodel-construction-industry.aspx, accessed November 2018

[4] Hager I., Golonka A., Putanowicz R., “3D Printing of Buildings and Building Components as the Future of Sustainable Construction?”, International Conference on Ecology and New Building Material and Products, ICEMBP 2016, Procedia Engineering 151 (2016) pp 292-299

[5] World Economic Forum and BCG Case Study “Shaping the Future of Construction: Inspiring Innovators Redefine the Industry”, February 2017, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Shaping_the_Future_of_Construction_Inspiring_Innovators_redefine_the_industry_2017.pdf accessed November 2018

[6] Winsun Corporate Website http://www.winsun3d.com/En/ , accessed November 2018

[7] “10 Completely 3D printed Houses Appear in Shanghai, Built Under a Day”, April 1st 2014, http://www.3ders.org/articles/20140401-10-completely-3d-printed-houses-appears-in-shanghai-built-in-a-day.html, accessed November 2018

[8] World Economic Forum Case Study, “Demonstrating the Viability of 3D Printing at Construction Scale”, December 2016

[9] Aldama, Z., “We Could 3D-PRINT Trump’s Wall: China Construction Visionaries Set to Revolutionize an Industry Rife with Graft and Old Thinking”, May 13th 2017, South China Morning Post, https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/long-reads/article/2093914/we-could-3d-print-trumps-wall-china-construction, accessed November 2018

[10] Saunders S., “Winsun and AECOM Sign MOU, will Collaborate on 3D Printing Construction and Building Design”, May 21st 2017, https://3dprint.com/175111/winsun-aecom-3d-print-mou/, accessed November 2018

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7 thoughts on “Winsun: Revolutionizing the Construction Industry with 3D Printing

  1. In response to the first question, I argue that Winsun should educate construction partners by establishing strong relationships with specific field leaders. By forming these connections, workers in the fields of architecture, design, and even government will be less skeptical if they see key opinion leaders promoting the benefits of 3D printing. The advantage to this approach would be that Winsun would not have to invest heavily in educating and changing the attitudes of all ground level workers individually. Instead, by choosing the most prominent leaders across the construction value change, Winsun can create industry-wide respect for its 3D printing approach and more rapidly influence a broader audience within the construction sector to adopt this game-changing technology.

  2. In response to your second question, I think Winsun should focus on its core competency of constructing buildings instead of entering the other markets, because first, the global construction market is so huge, but the dominating technology is still very traditional. Even just focusing on this market could bring Winsun massive opportunities. Second, similar to application in construction market, applying 3D printing to other traditional industries requires a lot of efforts in educating key stakeholders and large amount of investment in the technology with high uncertainty. Despite the leading position in construction, Winsun might not be well-positioned for these challenges at the current stage.

  3. Awesome article! A mobile 3D printer could increase access to housing in even the most remote areas of the world. 1.6 billion people—a fifth of the world’s population—will lack access to secure, adequate, and affordable housing by 2025. This technology could be game changing in reducing homelessness globally.

    However, a big concern for me is how additive manufacturing will affect construction jobs. My assumption is that this technology will greatly reduce the number of workers needed per project, which means that many may not have jobs. Unless construction workers are given training in additional skills, they may not be able to work at all.

  4. Thanks for writing about this! I agree with the comment above in that this technology has the ability to affect millions of lives by providing affordable housing. In my specific context in the Philippines, I see this as a game changer for plenty of my countrymen. In fact, when I had visited the World’s Fair Nano in New York, a trade fair on the future state of the world, a 3D construction company specifically pointed out that this technology can help address the homeless in the developing world.

    That said, to address your first question, I believe that one way to educate the construction ecosystem is to make headlines through social impact. The reason I say this is twofold. The first is that it gives the company a proof-of-concept in terms of both scale and cost efficiency. By partnering up with a non-profit to provide homes for the poor, it showcases the speed at which it can build homes and the fact that it can be done cheaply. Secondly, it generates buzz for the company and puts it at the forefront of the conversation in how technology can provide a social good.

    In terms of your second question, I would stick to staying within the construction industry, but would take a slightly different position than what has already been done. Instead of focusing on building big houses or buildings in its entirety, I would look to creating modules for parts of a building (those that typically take the longest) and sell those parts to a company. This would address the trust issue that you described, and allow the company to get ‘small wins’ in proving the technology to the customer. By manufacturing parts of the value chain, it allows Winsun to get a foothold in the industry without having to wait for the all-in buy in from its customers.

  5. Thank you for sharing! I think one other challenge for Winsun is the tension between growth and regulation. I think their model and growth story makes sense in China, but I am not sure how the international regulation outlined by the ICC might differ from the comparable body in China. I wonder if Winsun needs to solely focus on winning the Chinese market first and working within those boundaries before delaying growth plans while adjusting to the requirements of the ICC. As you opened the essay, there are 65 competitors right now and that number is only growing.

  6. I believe addressing maintenance concerns will be most important as time progresses. One of the side benefits of owning a home is the ability to renovate it over time to keep up with the latest fashions and trends. As you mentioned, building codes are a crucial element of the construction and housing industries. The current requirements for renovation require compliance with these codes as they stand today and are only understood in the context of conventionally constructed buildings. I will be interested to see whether or not separate building codes will emerge for buildings constructed using nontraditional methods versus conventionally constructed buildings or whether new codes will blend the two different types of construction.

  7. I never thought we’d one day have the ability to print buildings. But now that the technology is here, we should look towards the implications that this would have in the developing world. If we can use this technology to build low cost homes in developing nations, we can change the lives of millions without access to proper shelter. However, my biggest concern is obviously safety. Because the technology is so new, there is no good data on the reliability of these 3D printed construction projects. I’m no civil engineer, but I’m assuming these buildings will be much more susceptible to collapse in the event of an earthquake or other large weather events. However, I realize that this is just the beginning.

    Right now, the company should focus on optimizing the safety and cost of construction. By becoming the industry leader in construction, they can set the standard (literally) for 3D printed houses. Once the market has been developed, and we begin to see more and more printed buildings, the company can expand the breath of their organization into construction materials and work towards integrating their supply chain.

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