I finally got the chance to talk with Henrik Lund Neilsen the CEO and Founder of COBOD. After automation caught his interest, Henrik personally went on a world tour of 35 3D printing companies that he was able to compare and contrast in his pursuit of bringing this technology to a bigger scale in the construction industry. After this grant funded journey, COBOD emerged with the BOD and eventually BOD 2 concrete 3D printer.
COBOD has a unique value proposition for their customers seeking to gain a competitive edge in the construction industry. 3D printing addresses the labor shortage in the construction industry that makes some regions very expensive to build in. On top of that, speed and reliability are two major advantages 3D printing can offer as well. Construction is multifaceted with each facet behaving slightly differently depending on location. In some regions of the world labor is cheap but the people may be unreliable, other areas the labor can be 10x more expensive and even more unreliable! Long term automation and technology offer a solution to the reliability problem. Construction automation seeks to mend the reputation of over budget over schedule construction projects that the world has become so used to. If you’ve got a contractor that always sticks to the schedule don’t loose their number any time soon there is still a ways to go before 3D printing is ubiquitous.
Henrik ensures that any modifications to the printer will be made retroactively available for existing customers. This is a strategy shared by another 3D printing company ‘Prusa’. It is a relief to see some construction 3D printing companies taking notes from the forward thinking printing companies rather than the traditional printer models where the profit is all in the ink. Unlike many other companies COBOD chooses to be material agnostic without a restrictive warrantee.
Without going into too much detail, Henrik told me they have developed a ‘magic’ material that can make regular concrete buildable. This method requires 1% additional material added to the regular mix. Unlocking the solution to a more affordable buildable concrete will have an enormous impact on the economic feasibility of 3D printed concrete.
Henrik wanted to stress the importance of scale when printing concrete. There is benefit to allowing more time between layers so when you are using a tiny 3’x 3’x 3’ concrete printer then you may only have 30 seconds between each layer. Scaling up to 40’x 50’ + yields significantly more space to print thus increasing time to complete each layer ultimately makes the entire process more efficient. Some projects take longer than others, we briefly discussed how some projects aimed for a 24 hr print time whereas others choose to spend months on a print in order to academically dissect and observe the process. Like every person I’ve spoken to pioneering this novel industry, Henrik is not shy to admit progress and improvements are being made with every build. Very soon larger multifamily developments will test the potential of automation and if they demonstrate favorable economic viability we’ll start to see similar projects pop up all over the world.