According to a 2015 World Bank report on Sub-Saharan Africa’s housing sector, there could be as many as 1.2 billion urban dwellers by 2050 and 4.5 million new residents in informal settlements each year, most of whom cannot afford basic formal housing or access mortgage loans. Could 3D printing help to revolutionize housing and home-ownership in Africa?
If the African continent intends to take advantage of its growing urban expansion to make cities inclusive, spur economic growth and expand job opportunities, clearly there is need to adopt new, targeted approaches to affordable housing and homeownership.
3D printing, also known as ‘Additive Manufacturing’, was first developed in the 1980s, and the technology has gone through series of improvement and advancement that now sees it being used to print almost anything, from mechanical spare parts to human body organs and limbs. Recently, it is now being explored to print buildings – a development that is shaking things up in the construction business and disrupting multiple global supply chains.
Already, in the Dutch city of Eindhoven, habitable homes are already being made using 3D concrete printers, with interested families eager to move in as soon as 2019. The printer creates layers of concrete, which eventually make walls. According to the team behind this project, 3D printing is very precise and does not waste materials or energy, making the building process more efficient, and ensure the buildings meet regulations. The team already made the world’s first 3D printed concrete bridge.
Africa’s Potential for 3D Printing
3D printing is already gaining traction in several countries in Africa. In 2013, WoeLabs tech hub in Togo made the first “Made in Africa” 3D printer from e-waste. They want to use 3D printing technology to revolutionize the continent. They’re starting by putting a machine in every school within 1km of the workshop.
In 2016, General Electric, launched a permanent installation called the Lagos Garage in Nigeria. The GE Lagos Garage is a hub for advanced manufacturing-based innovation, idea generation and collaboration. It is Nigeria’s first-ever fabrication lab offering year-round series of skills training programs covering 3D printing, CNC mills and laser cutters.
Buni Hub in Tanzania is another tech centre that is building 3D printers.
3D printing in construction is still relatively new globally, but perhaps it is worth exploring on the continent to help solve the growing housing needs. A lot can be learnt from startups like Icon in the United States, who are able to 3D print homes for as low as $4,000. Icon, which also has its eyes on the African market, has already raised $9 million in seed funding to expand its affordable housing projects across the globe.