Twente Additive Manufacturing: Redefining construction.

3D Printing

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Manufactured goods are necessary for trade. According to the World Trade Organization, 80% of interregional trade is in goods, and only 20% is in services. For the U.S., the statistics are about the same. Manufacturing, therefore, plays an important part in the functioning of a nation’s economy. Despite these statistics, manufacturing is considered to be a stagnant industry. It is often said that unlike the software industry, manufacturing has not kept pace with the changing times. However, a promising new technology is about to change our fundamental notions about manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing is a transformative approach to production of goods that enables the creation of lighter, stronger systems and components. Additive manufacturing (AM) uses CAD software or 3D scanners to direct hardware to deposit material, layer upon layer, in precise shapes and patterns. As its name implies, additive manufacturing adds material to create an object. By contrast, when you create an object by traditional means, it is often necessary to remove material through milling, machining, carving, shaping or other means.

Due to its ability to allow high degrees of flexibility in product design and manufacturing, AM can be used to produce extremely complex structures, which is usually not possible through traditional techniques. With the potential to significantly reduce material waste, and the amount of production steps, additive manufacturing is poised to transform the manufacturing vertical provided it is implemented properly.

“Twente’s main purpose is to develop and improve the 3D printing equipment and methods that will help architects to be able to have their visions come true in real-world constructions.”

Founded by Ian Comishin (President) along with Tim Brodesser (Head of Research and Development), Jonathan Ladouceur (Head of Engineering), Jim Ziemlanski (Integration Specialist), Kasia Olechnowicz (Head of Finance and Compliance) and Adam Rumjahn (Director of Operations), Twente Additive Manufacturing is a group of passionate engineers and technicians who swear that they can transform the architectural domain through automation, and 3D printing of concrete. Headquartered in Enschede, Netherlands, Twente wants to transform the home building industry with the help of the disruptive power of digital manufacturing.

After spending two decades working to automate the wind energy industry, Ian gauged the potential of automation for construction and decided to move into an industry where he could implement advanced automation to produce some fascinating results. The team at Twente includes people who have influenced their respective verticals by introducing and implementing digital manufacturing. Twente wants to be the world’s premier developer of advanced construction methods through automation and modern materials research.

Challenging tradition

As one of the leaders in the field of 3D printing technology, Twente is renowned for developing & installing custom machinery and readymade solutions for construction companies that want to add 3D printing to their profile. Twente specializes in many types of materials, printers and architectural applications which construction companies can use to minimize the initial costs, improve construction output and reduce waste generation. 

Twente also helps its clients develop, design, integrate and manage the 3D printing of homes and improve the processes associated with architecture design. “At Twente Additive Manufacturing we are challenging traditional construction techniques through the power of Additive Manufacturing and Automation Technology,” adds Ian Comishin, Founder & President at Twente.

Ian Comishin shares lunch with his daughter on the printed Bunny Picnic Table.
Ian Comishin shares lunch with his daughter on the printed Bunny Picnic Table.

“What this pandemic has taught us is that, more than ever, we need solutions which minimize the environmental impact of human activity. With society becoming cognizant about the need for accessible housing, it is essential that governments and organizations continue to invest in sustainable construction.”

Driven by purpose

Twente has the goal to influence the people’s buying habits and home ownership. We all know that there is a lot of wastefulness in home construction and in furniture. Twente helps companies make concrete structures that use material optimization and good layout to reduce the need for so much garbage being created. “Twente’s main purpose is to develop and improve the 3D printing equipment and methods that will help architects to be able to have their visions come true in real-world constructions,” affirms Ian.

There are so many companies in the concrete industry that keep doing things the same way over and over and watch their margins keep sliding as differentiation from their competition is almost non-existent. Twente works with material suppliers and ensures that its machinery is adaptable to work in local environments. Twente’s extensive experience at automation, their ability to customize their equipment to work well in a variety of situations and their ability to adapt to regionally specific working conditions allows their clients to differentiate from the competition. 

“The construction industry is one of the largest contributors to both the economy and to the environmental destruction of our planet. In all other industries, automation has made production safer for employees, less wasteful for materials usage, more accurate for precision tolerances, and in general, more profitable for shareholders. It is about time that the construction world catches up to the rest of the commercial world and Twente is committed to bring about this kind of change,” adds Ian.

Jim Ziemlanski Prints for the first time ever on the back of a truck, a picnic table for public installation.
Jim Ziemlanski Prints for the first time ever on the back of a truck, a picnic table for public installation.

Saving the environment

Every technology brings along with its positives and negatives and additive manufacturing is no different. On one hand it can be cost prohibitive, and a bit slower compared to traditional approaches. However, it allows construction companies to make impossible shapes with less material, thus reducing their environmental impact.

We humans only have one planet to live on. If we don’t implement strategies and techniques to reduce our impact on the environment, our little pale blue dot is toast. By using topology optimization, 3D printing concrete allows you to create hollow sections in walls thereby reducing concrete usage by 50%. This minor change can lead to major CO2 reductions while reducing material usage, the best of both worlds. Moreover, as houses made out of concrete last longer than houses made of wood, it also contributes to affordable and sustainable housing options,” emphasizes Ian.

The technological breakthrough!

Twente has developed some unique 3D printing solutions. Take for example, Twente’s 9-axis architectural 3D printer. This system is made of a 6-axis ABB robot that has a printing footprint of 42m³. After adding the required elevation and translation, an 8-axis arm is capable of printing 181m³. The 9th Axis; the final rotational axis brings the machine’s printing footprint to an astounding 391m³. Claimed to be the 1st ever printer in the world that cures concrete so quickly that it can print multiple components non-stop, it is a major technological breakthrough for Twente and the construction industry.

Jim Ziemlanski gives a demonstration to Don McQuaid of World Housing who has helped get more 3D printed homes installed in developing nations than any other group.
Jim Ziemlanski gives a demonstration to Don McQuaid of World Housing who has helped get more 3D printed homes installed in developing nations than any other group.

Giving back

Twente’s initial goal for 2020 was to display the amazing capabilities of 3D concrete printing by building a luxury home with it. Due to the physical distancing protocol laid down by the concerned authorities, Twente had to halt their project. However, one can never keep a good inventor down for long. Determined to contribute towards mitigating the effects of the pandemic, management and engineers at Twente started thinking about how to use their technology and expertise towards minimizing the pain of their communities. 

“This pandemic has been a wakeup call for all of us. Watching our brave public health workers risk their lives for us made us reassess our role in society, not just as individuals but also as an organization. It became obvious to us that social distancing was going to be difficult, especially in long term elderly care homes, low-income households for the disabled and mental health patients cared for by public services. Hence, we changed our strategy for a demonstration home and started building low cost, highly durable micro homes that could be cleaned easily and could be carried just about anywhere. This would ensure that the pandemic fighters have easy access to safe housing in order to prevent the virus from spreading. This is part of our contributions towards this fight,” affirms Ian.

Twente’s approach towards low-cost home and their dedication towards enabling economically marginalized communities everywhere on the planet was further noticed by the incredible World Housing organization. They have been working together with Twente to launch a program of printing more homes through charitable funding relationships. Using their experience of setting up 3D printed community in Mexico, the World Housing organization has determined to help Twente push this technology even further along with its philanthropic benefits that Twente printers have to offer. 

The world’s first ever 3D-printed Playground

Another awe-inspiring project being undertaken by the Twente team is for the Rotary Club, the second largest charity in the world behind the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. This organization is well-renowned for its youth exchange programs and the valuable contribution towards eradicating Polio all across the globe.  They frequently take on community projects as well and soon with their aid, world’s first 3D printed playground will be installed in the City of Nelson. 

Ian exclaims, “These community projects are an awesome way to get our young engineers training in how the real-world installation of these printed elements come together. By using the equipment and placing the parts, the engineers move outside of their theoretical understanding and onto the construction site. They also have to learn how to answer the hordes of onlookers yelling through the fencing to find out what on earth these guys are building.”

Twente Engineers Parsa Khodabakhshi (l) and Jarrett Smith (r) levelling benches and a fall-zone perimeter for a playground installation.
Twente Engineers Parsa Khodabakhshi (l) and Jarrett Smith (r) levelling benches and a fall-zone perimeter for a playground installation.

A hopeful future

In the beginning of this year, Twente co-sponsored one of the largest ever gathering of scientific papers and 3D concrete printing experiments ever presented – the Digital Concrete 2020 hosted by the Technical University of Eindhoven. Ian asserts, “The open forum symposium and discussions on the state of the art in concrete 3D printing was enhanced by Twente allowing live interaction with printing projects going on real-time. Twente is truly committed to supporting in any way possible the advancement of knowledge in this domain.”

Not only this, they have significantly enhanced their engagement with various universities and programs around the world as they are leaving no stone unturned from taking on interns from University of British Columbia to consulting on the board in regard to the 3D Concrete Printing program at Saxion University in Enschede to help get more and more students intrigued to set foot in this incredibly fast-growing industry.

While the pandemic may have shaken the confidence of companies around the world, Team Twente remains optimistic. “What this pandemic has taught us is that, more than ever, we need solutions which minimize the environmental impact of human activity. With society becoming cognizant about the need for accessible housing, it is essential that governments and organizations continue to invest in sustainable construction. It is our hope that in the coming days, everyone reading this article will get to see at least one printed state of art home or building around them,” concludes Ian.

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