Interview with Anna Cheniuntai, Founder and CEO of Apis Cor
Please tell us about Apis Cor robotics solution to 3D print houses on-site. How did you come up with this idea? What are the main benefits of your product for homebuilders?
AC: Our motto is “We print buildings”. Basically, the process is pretty like traditional 3D printing with plastic materials, but instead of plastic extrusion, concrete mortar comes out of a larger 3D printer to create larger structures like houses. Our 3D printer is a custom-build robotics arm that distributes the concrete mortar creating wall structures of a future house. Thanks to true portability and mobility of the robot we can 3D print buildings of any footprint and directly on-site.
We came up with this idea together with my co-founder Nikita Cheniuntai who invented the Apis Cor 3D printing robot. Before Apis Cor we manufactured industrial machines like CNC laser and plasma cutting machines, and then we delivered a massive construction project at the Olympic Games in 2014. This experience was a turnout point when we realized that construction had not been changed since almost the middle ages – we still do almost everything manually. We decided that we had to find the way how we can do things differently. Combination of additive manufacturing and robotics was definitely an answer to that, and concrete 3D printing was already a new stream that time, however there was not an efficient robotics solution. Nikita, he is a brilliant engineer, came up with the design of a mobile 3D printing robot that made a revolution in 3D printed homes technology and changed the landscape of the industry in general.
Our on-site 3D printing robotics construction technology allows homebuilders to build house structures robotically which is much faster, with better and constant quality, with predictable lead time and budget. It significantly increases productivity to the construction process since construction of a house structure is the most labor and material intensive part of construction.
The most important is that 3D printing robotics construction can help us narrow the gap of new housing worldwide, specifically in countries where skilled labor is almost unavailable.
It is probably hard to accept right now, but in the nearest future building houses as we do it today will be the same outdated as riding a horse instead of driving a car.
Please share with us more about this $15Bn+ market. What does your target market and competitive landscape look like?
AC: The market opportunity is huge since our mobile solution can 3D print any type of low rising construction – commercial and residential buildings, and warehouses. For example, more than 800,000 house units are built annually in the USA, but it is still not enough to meet the demand for new and affordable housing due to shortages of skilled labor.
There are many companies doing construction 3D printing, but only our robotics solution today provides the true portability and mobility that gives unlimited freedom of house footprint and on-site printing.
Tell us more about your two-story government agency building in Dubai, which is reportedly the largest ever 3D printed project?
AC: Collaborating with Dubai Municipality, our team completed 3D printed wall structures of a two-story administrative building. Standing at 9.5 meters tall with an area of 640 square meters, it is the largest 3D printed building to date recognized as such by Guinness Record. Thanks to the unique design of our 3D printer the structure of the building was built directly on-site without any extra assembly works. The total area of the building is larger than the printing area accessible when the Apis Cor’s 3D printer is stationary. However, one Apis Cor’s machine and our team of 3 people were needed to 3D print wall structures of the entire building.
The whole process took place in an uncovered area, meaning such critical environment requirements for 3D printing material like temperature and humidity were uncontrolled. Apis Cor was able to conduct extensive R&D dedicated to testing the equipment under harsh climatic conditions and developing the 3D printing material.
We are thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with Dubai Municipality. The project gave us unique knowledge and invaluable experience that will help us improve our technology and develop a new version of our 3D printer. This pilot project is a huge step forward to bringing concrete 3D printing in the real construction world.
Share with us about your experience winning NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge.
AC: In 2018 we teamed up with SEArch + to participate in the contest “3D-Printed Habitat Challenge”, organized by the US National Space Agency.The Challenge is a $3.15 million competition to build a 3D-printed habitat for deep space exploration, including the agency’s journey to Mars. The multi-phase challenge is designed to advance the construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth and beyond.
The Challenge put us to the test in several areas of 3D-printing, including modeling software, material development and construction. Specifically, we were tasked to 3D print specific elements of a habitat in a maximum autonomous way that our team successfully demonstrated, and we were placed first in all construction levels that we participated in. We also were able to leverage the Autodesk Technology Center in Boston which is a research and development workspace focused on innovation in architecture, engineering, and construction.