Ever since additive manufacturing first started making headlines, the notion of 3D printing houses has regularly been part of the discussion. Over the years, innovators around the world have been making quiet but steady progress in realising the idea. One example is Melbourne start-up SLIK Build.

Tom Macrokanis founded the company in 2018, and with his business partner John Nicolaidis, SLIK Build aims to tackle the ever-increasing problem of housing affordability across Australia. The availability of affordable housing is a longstanding issue in this country, both from the perspectives of home ownership and affordable rental.

Responsibility for the availability of affordable and social housing supply is governed by state and local governments, and these bodies are exploring ways to create mechanisms that will help to resolve what is a growing crisis Australia-wide. Despite most local councils having strategies in place, they are yet to materialise.

For Macrokanis and Nicolaidis, both research and experience point towards a key underlying issue that “high construction costs are the inhibitor”. The SLIK Build team concluded that the only way out of this crisis would be to develop an industry specifically designed to service the social housing market segment, thus providing solutions to underlying social issues impacted by lack of affordable and social housing, that can be replicated nationally.

The aim has been to produce a competitive industrial solution using concrete as opposed to mortar through 3D printing technology. This solution would allow SLIK Build to print conventional concrete rapidly, inexpensively, and with high levels of precision and accuracy.

SLIK Build has created a physical product, innovative technology and a pioneering process of application that disintermediate the traditional development and construction process by removing complexity, while generating productivity and efficiency that will allow elements of the housing creation process to be viewed differently. According to the team, it represents a new paradigm in manufacturing and construction, designed to build to stock rather than build to order, that will deliver housing affordably. The company believes its innovative new process of 3D concrete construction will change the way that affordable and social housing is constructed in Australia, among other things.

SLIK Build is rolling out its offering through collaborations with community housing providers, providing a fee-for-service model for its affordable, durable concrete solution. Initially a two-level, four-unit development will be constructed in New South Wales in the fourth quarter 2021. Under the program, the State Government will fund the build directly, and will contract community housing providers to act as housing developers. Within months of the completion of the showcase house, SLIK Build is anticipating that public residential construction approvals will escalate to 1,000 per annum in NSW alone, with additional approvals to follow in each state and territory.

Unlike the majority of current concrete 3D printing companies, which focus on developing proprietary sand and cement mortar blends, SLIK Build’s approach focuses on using traditional concrete blends as 3D printable material. The emphasis on using conventional concrete with aggregate means they can focus on building a printing solution that satisfies the needs of the sector.

The company is currently developing the first mobile robotic system in Australia, with testing scheduled to begin second quarter of 2021. SLIK Build aims to provide 3D concrete printing services to a broad customer base that will include social housing, owner builders and more.

“Imagine building your home for under $100 per square metre,” says Macrokanis. “You go to the machine hire factory, pick up your 3D printer, go to your block, set it up on the slab, concrete trucks start turning up, you flick on the printer, and you sit back and watch your home almost grow out of the ground.”

With so much happening in the immediate future, Macrokanis and Nicolaidis could be forgiven for leaving longer-term considerations to one side for now. However, they have further ideas up their sleeves. Macrokanis is looking into bringing generative design to their process, along with on-site augmented reality (AR) to improve efficiency. These optimisations will help further reduce cost, with the savings passed on to the customer. Beyond that, the duo remain committed to their company having a genuine positive social impact in Australia.

“Currently around 35% of an average family’s gross income goes to a mortgage,” says Nicolaidis. “If you can bring that percentage down to 25%, what would happen to the economy, when 10% more income can be dispersed into other areas?”

Macrokanis adds: “To be the first company to print a house here in Australia; that’s step one. Then longer term, hopefully is to have been an instrumental part in solving a very large issue in Australia. However our goal at the moment is focused on just getting the first step done.