For many, the term “3D printing” conjures up images of tabletop devices sculpting objects in neat, high-tech ways. But 3D printers are rapidly gaining traction in the construction rental industry and while the concept may be similar to their smaller cousins, the scale of builder-grade printers is off the charts and their application is more than a trend – some call it a revolution.
At the forefront of this movement is Black Buffalo 3D. The company produces large-scale construction 3D printers, which are heavy pieces of equipment and technology that uses a ready-mixed cement mixture as the “ink”, allowing customers to print structures like complete homes and commercial buildings directly on site.
“It’s basically a game-changer,” says Tim Murphy, business development manager for Black Buffalo 3D, of the enthusiasm his company has seen for its product and methodology. “It’s almost a 4.0 [Fourth Industrial Revolution] for construction, which is one of the last industries to hear about how technology can change the way we go to market. We are only at the very beginning and it is exciting.
|Photo courtesy of Black Buffalo 3D and Michael Dennis Photography|
Black Buffalo 3D’s origins cross the Pacific to South Korea, where the entity was created by the grandson of the founders of Hyundai Corporation, according to Peter Cooperman, head of marketing and strategy for Big Sun Holdings Group. , which was formed in 2020 to serve as the project’s global accelerator.
“Our parent company in South Korea had a printer that printed about 100 square feet of mortar and various materials. They saw real commercial potential in it, so they launched Black Buffalo 3D. Our job was to take this technology and bring the printers to market,” says Cooperman, adding that “the second prototype was fully functional and remains one of the tallest 3D printers in the world at four stories high.
Feedback from over a year of visits from over 150 companies and industry experts led to the launch of the current 3-stage modular printer, the NEXCON 1G, in early 2022. The printer operates on a rail system that can extend infinitely for long runs or to print structures on adjacent properties by simply extending the rails and can be used by a team of four to five people.
But before the process could be introduced to the construction market, the cement-based ink had to be perfected. Black Buffalo teamed up with international partners MAPEI, a manufacturer of chemicals for the building industry, and Intertek, a product inspection, testing and certification company, to develop a blend that would suit the erection of structures on a global scale.
“We wanted to make sure all our customers had to do was add water,” says Cooperman. “We looked at how we could create a formula that might work better so that we didn’t have to stop printing; some companies have to stop every seven or eight coats for them to cure and settle, to support subsequent coats. We also looked at the ingredients to make sure our ink could work in a wide variety of circumstances and come from all over the world.
Cooperman says the final ink blend was the product of more than 10,000 hours of research and development and although testing was carried out by top engineers and scientists, there was still a hurdle in meeting international standards from the building code – standards that until recently fell short. date on the latest technology that Black Buffalo 3D was ready to bring to market.
“There is only one standard for 3D printed walls in the world by the International Code Council: AC509. It was written to only go up to 8 feet tall, which we believe severely limits what you can do with this technology. So we spent a year rewriting this code to scale up multiple floors. We are close to getting official approval,” says Cooperman.
|Photo courtesy of Black Buffalo 3D and Michael Dennis Photography|
Although Black Buffalo 3D’s products are currently manufactured in South Korea, the company is preparing to expand into the United States with the recent acquisition of land that previously housed a regional airport in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, to serve as a base and center. for assembly, manufacturing and training.
With experience in equipment financing and his appearance on The ARA Show™, Murphy recognizes the lure of the rental market for Black Buffalo printing devices and explains how the company markets its services to customers. potential in this channel.
“The rental part makes a lot of sense,” he says. “93% of construction companies rent equipment. We use this statistic to show [construction] people there that we have what you are used to doing already in this industry. We’re going state by state, looking at different housing associations and building companies, reaching out to them for learning opportunities to learn more about this new technology they could use and how they can save more money, build faster and better.
Cooperman and Murphy say developers, contractors, builders, higher education and government agencies have all contacted Black Buffalo 3D, impressed with what they see in the company’s work.
“We reached 83,000 pounds. of pressure to break through one of our walls, where standard concrete is maybe 5,000 psi,” Cooperman says of a recent test of Black Buffalo’s ink compound. “You want to make sure that if you print a wall that’s 10ft high, it’s still 10ft high 28 days later. It’s hard to get that, and our team did a great job of getting it.
Cooperman adds that following a demonstration at a builders convention in early 2022, Black Buffalo 3D was invited by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to show off its capabilities at a event on the National Mall. “We weren’t allowed to print there, but we brought samples of finishes for the stucco or a window or a door. How do you refuse a photo of your product with the Washington Monument on one side and the Capitol on the other? ” he says.
Soon for Black Buffalo 3D is the start of a project in Virginia to print over 200 homes for their client, Alquist 3D, which Cooperman and Murphy believe will be the largest 3D printed home project in the world. With buzz like this, the pair say the company’s biggest challenge is keeping up with demand.
“There’s so much demand right now,” Cooperman says. “Supply chain issues are part of why this technology is so popular. The cost of lumber, nails, supplies, siding finish and various materials has skyrocketed over the past two years. Our printer replaces framing and walls, interior and exterior. Now you can simply bring a 3D printer and a ready-to-use mixture on site. »
|Black Buffalo 3D displays its product on the National Mall in Washington, DC|
The Black Buffalo 3D team says that in the current environment they can’t make their printers fast enough to keep up with the demand and that’s one of the reasons they’re trying hard to support the industry, even if it helps to advance the potential of competitors.
“To be honest, we all love them,” Murphy says. “If we all made as many printers as possible, we still wouldn’t be able to meet the demand that’s going to come up in the market. It’s like running a Super Bowl commercial. In any industry, this is going to help the whole group. We look at our competitors almost as partners because it’s such a new platform and there’s so much education to do. We love what they do, they love what we do, and we all go to market differently.
Murphy likens Black Buffalo’s primary mission to a four-legged stool, with its gear, ink, training, and finance/lease program as the main components. But he also says there’s another priority that should be considered a fifth step: sustainability.
“It’s huge,” he said. “Our printers naturally use less product. We only print what we need. We use one to two bins full of wasted concrete, at most, per construction, whereas a stick-built structure creates 1-2 tons of waste. In the ink itself, we have different fibers and polymers to reduce our concrete footprint, and we’re going to expand that with things like hempcrete and other biomass particles to make it even better for the environment. The compressive strength of our concrete not only takes into account its hardness, but also its service life. It is a more permanent structure, which helps with durability. We’re at a time where a massive amount of construction is going to happen and as we get the economy working, we’re going to drive a massive shift in the total sustainability factor for the whole industry.
You can see a product video of Black Buffalo 3D in action here: