Sustainable building design for the masses with XL-3D printers from Amsterdam

Robotic extra-large (XL) 3D printers developed in the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands are making customised architectural products more sustainable and accessible. Smart technology from the XL-3D Printer project in the North Holland region automates the design and production of elements such as flooring, mouldings and façade cladding. The low-waste printing technology saves time and costs to produce bespoke items and uses recyclable bioplastics or recovered industrial materials. It is now being used commercially for buildings around the world.

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Robotic XL 3D printer  © Ilse Leenders/Aectual Robotic XL 3D printer © Ilse Leenders/Aectual

" At the moment, consumers depend on building companies and property developers, and only 5 % of all building projects involve an architect. We aim to give the public access to the production process and by doing so, bring design to the masses. "

Hedwig Heinsman, co-founder Aectual

Researchers from businesses and a scientific institute improved printing and robotic technology, materials, printer software and project management techniques for producing parts from 3D printers. Innovations speed up the manufacture and installation of elements, while reducing waste and CO2 emissions. 

Prototype products were then made for constructing a test house in Amsterdam. From these, customisable flooring was launched in October 2017. This is now on sale worldwide through the spin-out Aectual, creating new jobs in the company and among clients. Other products are being developed for launch.

Time and materials savings

XL-3D Printer developed its technology in its canalside 3D print factory in Amsterdam. Research and development focused on floors, façades and staircase mouldings, chosen as the products that are most likely to be customised. 

Manufacturing improvements touched all parts of the production chain, from design to installation. Robotic 3D printers and software tools optimise an element’s pattern, shape and production so that it is printed out quickly and is easy to install. 

Innovations in materials also reduce impacts on costs and the environment. Plastic products, such as the flooring systems, use a plant-based material that can be entirely returned to the print cycle and that can include discarded household plastic or industrial by-products. For concrete elements, such as mouldings, the low-waste 3D printing uses up to 70 % less concrete than conventional production and can reduce related CO2 emissions by up to 60 %.

Accessible success

The company Aectual grew from the project in order to demonstrate that 3D printed products can be commercially viable. Its first product was a large flooring panel with channels filled in with chips of other materials, a style known as terrazzo. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport was the first customer, ordering a 600 m2 covering. Other large customers include a new museum in Amsterdam and retail projects in Europe and Asia.

Aectual is now finalising its print and robot technology to scale up production. It is also preparing a new product – façade panels printed out of waste plastic. Accessibility goes beyond the customisable products. The public can visit the project’s factory to see their work in action.

XL-3D Printer showed that 3D printing can be applied in architecture, engineering and construction, paving the way for more sustainable construction and for other XL 3D printing companies. Aectual has grown its team from 5 to 15 people and plans to expand further, while its clients are also developing new jobs for designers who can work with 3D printing. 

Total investment and EU funding 

Total investment for the project “XL 3D Printer” is EUR 860 175 with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR  306 766 through the “West Netherlands” Operational Programme for the 2014-2020 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Research and innovation”.


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