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Humanitarian project 3D-prints school in Ukraine in record time

Words:
Stephen Cousins

As refugees from war-torn regions seek safety in Lviv, a new school is being 3D-printed using a robotic innovation that has been developed in response to the threat of shelling

Computer generated image of the finished school.
Computer generated image of the finished school.

As shelling and gunfire continue to obliterate lives and buildings across Ukraine, thousands of internally displaced people from towns and villages have made their way to cities in the hope of finding shelter and safety.

With the population of Lviv in western Ukraine estimated to be around a third larger than it was before Russia’s invasion, a small construction team is working to rapidly 3D print a new school building to accommodate the influx of children from elsewhere in the country.

The project is being led by humanitarian charity Team4UA with partner 3DCP Group, a multi-disciplinary 3D printing company. It is using equipment supplied by Denmark’s COBOD International.

The hybrid building will expand the capacity of ‘School 23’ in Lviv, which teaches around 1,200 pupils, up from around 800 before the war began.

Designed by Kyiv-based architect Balbek Bureau, it will measure 506m2, with the 3D printed section around 300m2 in size.

COBOD’s BOD 2 printer was modified to prevent damage in the event of site evacuation.
COBOD’s BOD 2 printer was modified to prevent damage in the event of site evacuation.

Printing is being carried out in two sections by a BOD 2 robot. Printing began in mid-May and is expected to be completed around the time of publication, with the finished building handed over at the start of 2024.

‘The building is so large we're printing it in two parts,’ explains Mikkel Brich, CEO of 3DCP. ‘We print one section, then move the robot [which measures 15m long by 12m wide] and print the second. Each section contains two classrooms and the second section is now under way.’

The walls are extruded from the print head in layers onto a pre-existing foundation, with MEP services installed as the structure rises.

The threat of shelling on the site led to the development of an innovation in the way additives are mixed into the concrete. They would normally be added to the concrete mix in the batching plant, but in the event of an air raid alarm and workers having to wait in a shelter for several hours, this approach would cause the mix to harden in equipment causing serious damage.

‘When we return, our mixer, our pump and our hose would be destroyed, costing over £100,000 – so we had to figure out a way to dose the additives at a later stage to prevent harm to our equipment,’ says Brich.

The solution was to mount the additive dosing system directly in the print head and inject the additives just before the concrete is extruded. This innovation is likely to become a regular feature on future projects, says Brich: ‘If something goes wrong with the mixer, the pump, or the power, it's no longer race against time to get the system flushed out because accelerator is in the system. Dosing at the printhead means we only have normal concrete in the rest of the system.’

  • The school is extruded in layers with MEP services installed simultaneously.
    The school is extruded in layers with MEP services installed simultaneously.
  • The school is extruded in layers with MEP services installed simultaneously.
    The school is extruded in layers with MEP services installed simultaneously.
  • Computer generated image of the finished school.
    Computer generated image of the finished school.
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In terms of speed of construction, operating the printer requires only three people. Using the number of workers that would be needed to build in bricks and mortar, ‘we could probably build about four or five schools before they built even one,’ says Brich.

Furthermore, the curved architecture of the building would take more time to deliver by hand in brick and add considerably to the cost, he adds: ‘As rule of thumb in architecture, if a straight wall costs 1x, a curved wall costs 2x and spherical wall costs 10x, but using a 3D printer everything costs 1x, which opens the door to really exciting architecture.’

The logistics of operating in a country that is effectively under martial law added complexity to the project and meant ‘jumping through some loopholes’ to get money, crew and equipment in and out of the country.

Three trucks transported the 3D printer from Denmark to Ukraine. ‘Team4UA managed to get our trucks across the border in one day with a police escort where previously we were told that it could take up to two weeks,’ says Brich. ‘I don't know how they pulled that off but they did,’ he concludes.

 

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