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Robot system to print wildfire-resistant California home

by Mark Cantrell
A 3D-printed concrete home under construction in the United States is said to be the first such wildfire-resistant structure in the county to be built on site using the technology.

A 3D-printed concrete home under construction in the United States is said to be the first such wildfire-resistant structure in the country to be built on site using the technology.

The building is a so-called accessory dwelling unit (ADU); a secondary home built on the same plot – but separate – from the main property.

Situated in Walnut, California, one of the project’s objectives is to deliver a structure that minimises risks from wildfires.

It is being built in collaboration with the City of Walnut, and the Los Angeles County Fire Department, with general contractor Builtech Construction Group leading the project from design to finish.

The project broke ground last month. At this stage, Builtech is leading the installation of the plumbing and sewage system.

Once the foundations are laid, then robotic 3D printing technology will be deployed to construct the ADU’s concrete walls.

Subcontractor K4K Construction Design will be responsible for the 3D printing, using RIC Technology’s robotic arm 3D printer. The process to print the walls is expected to take around 20 days.

Ziyou Xu, founder and chief executive of RIC Technology, claims the project is a breakthrough in concrete 3D printing’s application to ADU and other affordable housing projects

“Our compact modular robotic 3D printer overcomes conventional gantry systems’ limitations, enabling 3D construction on site, in confined space such as people’s backyards,” Xu said.

The most noticeable feature of this ADU is said to be that it will be non-combustible and fire-resistant. A couple living in Walnut, who are eager to contribute to wildfire protection, agreed to assist Builtech in building a fire-resistant ADU in their backyard. This 1,200 sqft ADU will include two bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms.

Xu added: “This project can be the beginning of something meaningful – a wider application of 3D printed homes that are less susceptible to fires.

“This fire-resistant home will reduce wildfire risks for the homeowners by enhancing resilience during a fire and speeding up post-wildfire recovery. It significantly saves time and money in the recovery process if residents’ homes survive a wildfire.”

Wildfires are a growing problems in the United States and elsewhere, as the effects of climate change make themselves felt.

Most homes destroyed in wildfires are initially set ablaze by embers and minor flames. By reducing a home’s susceptibility to fire, the chances of a home surviving a wildfire are greatly increased, according to Wildfire Risk to Communities, a resources hub created by the USDA Forest Service to help communities identify and mitigate wildfire risks.

Aaron Liu, chief executive of Builtech Construction Group and an NFPA-certified wildfire mitigation specialist (CWMS), said: “During wildfires, ‘heat’ and ‘oxygen’, two of the three components of the fire triangle, are beyond control. Therefore, our focus is on eliminating ‘fuel’: the unique architectural design and building materials in this case.”

For this ADU, the exterior walls will be 3D printed using concrete, a non-combustible material. Additionally, the roof of the ADU will be constructed with light steel and sure-boards, distinguishing it from other 3D-printed homes that often feature wooden structural roofs, Builtech says.

The company will also strengthen the areas of a home that are traditionally vulnerable to fires, such as eave vents and windows.

Liu added: “The ADU will be built without a single piece of wood or nail – no ‘fuel’ on the main structure. So we significantly minimize the likelihood of fire entering the home, reducing its susceptibility to fire.”

The Walnut project is expected to serve as a catalyst for further collaborations with local governments and fire departments, aiming to expand these fire-resistant constructions to more communities in California affected by wildfires.

In the future, RIC Technology plans to continue its partnership with Builtech Construction Group, focusing on the development of non-combustible, fire-resistant homes in such wildfire-prone areas.


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