Flying 3D Printing Drones for Construction | PropTech Startup Ideas


This PropTech Startup Idea from the 1001 Startup Ideas collection of YoStartups is to establish a swarm of Flying 3D printing drones for construction to overcome the limitations of current 3D Printers. The conventional 3D printers are now limited in function due to the size of their printing bed and their limited mobility.

Market definition for Flying 3D printing drones for Construction

As per a report published by Orbis Research in 2017, The Global 3D Printing Market was valued at USD 7.9 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach a value of USD 33.58 billion by the end of 2022. It is expected to grow at a projected CAGR of 27.29 % during the forecast period of 2017 – 2022. Boston Consulting Group predicts that 3D printing with its ability to execute complex design iterations with a variety of materials to print complex shapes without human supervision is a natural fit for the construction industry. The current 3D printers are limited in function by their size, and movement; and are expensive to build and deploy. So flying 3D printers for construction are an excellent alternative to conventional printers.

Competitor analysis for Flying 3D printing drones for Construction

Hangzhou DediBot Intelligent Technology Co., LTD.(DediBot) DediBot, a Chinese 3D Printing company revealed a concept flying 3D printer called Fly Elephant with a delta style printing head. The drone is connected to a continuous feeding system on a balloon for material supply. The Fly Elephant with a free-flying design will be not limited by shape, size of the design and the confines of 3D printing enclosure. These flying drones can build structures undersea or outer space as they are not limited by Z axis. These drones can be deployed in single units or clusters with a flight path defined by software for a printing accuracy of 0.1mm. The company is currently looking at wireless power solutions to give drones unlimited airtime.

There are other two similar projects initiated by researchers at Gensler and Kokkugia Gensler’s MuPPette- Mobile Unmanned Printing Platform; Two designers from Gensler’s Los Angeles office built a drone with an attached 3D printer that extruded concrete. The drone equipped with GPS sensors, Laser range finders, and gravity, assisted conveyor belt for material drop off. The drone’s printing head was stabilized using a camera Gimbal. The last prototype MUPP was able to fly for 20 minutes while carrying 10 ounces of material.

Kokkugia, an experimental architecture research practice used a different construction process using a swarm of drones. London Architectural Association (AA.DRL) professor Robert Stuart-Smith is focussing on the algorithms that can alter a predesigned construction process based on real-time structural feedback so that half of the design happens in real-time using continuous feedback from the flying drones. A team of students prototyped this system by digitally constructing a bridge between two cliff faces, and the drone printing sequence was automated in real-time utilizing feedback from the drones to remove any imperfections and flaws in the final design.

Pain point and target audience for Flying 3D printing drones for Construction

That target audience for this startup idea would be all the companies who are not willing to adopt 3D printing systems due to their limitations of movement within the X, Y and Z axis. The designers currently everywhere using the conventional 3D printers have to adjust the scale of their design or break it into smaller units to meet the 3D printer’s specifications for manufacturing the final design. The current 3D printers are not deployable anywhere as they are constrained by their size and their need for a stabilizing bed for printing. It is also difficult to transport large 3D printers to areas which are cut off by conventional modes of transportation.

Value proposition for Flying 3D printing drones for Construction

The value proposition that this idea proposes is that it can free up the possibilities of using 3D printing anywhere, the current limitations of 3D Printers do not allow them to be operated on unstable surfaces, liquids or even in outer space. The designers also have unlimited freedom to design as they are not bound by scale or making designs more modular to meet the current specifications for 3D printing. Flying 3D printing drones can be deployed anywhere due to their free flying design. They can be used to build infrastructure in inhospitable conditions and areas cut off from civilization. A bespoke hub and spoke model for 3D printing can open up possibilities to control the speed and scale of the project, as this model opens up the possibility of deploying many drones at the same time attached to a single feeder unit.

Business model for Flying 3D printing drones for Construction

The startup will have to develop proprietary construction materials to build different kinds of structures using the flying 3D Printers. The proprietary construction materials can be charged to the end user by their consumption in standard units.

Way to market for Flying 3D printing drones for Construction

The way to market for this startup idea from YoStartups is that the startup can pick up off-the-shelf proven drones from companies like DJI or and customize it to handle the requirements for 3D Printing of various structures. After the necessary modifications are made to the hardware, the startup will have to build a cloud-based software for slicing the CAD designs and to plot the flight maps to ensure that there is precision to the last millimeter. The startup can use three to six-axis Gimbals for printing using Delta technology. The drone will be used as a printing unit attached to a feeder unit. The feeder which can be a balloon will have to supply material to the drones to execute printing jobs. The startup can also look at exploring latest developments in High powered Solar cells or wireless power solutions to increase the flying time of the drones.

Key milestones for Flying 3D printing drones for Construction

The startup can start with buying an off the shelf drone and customize it to fit a 3D printing head stabilized by six-axis Gimbals. The startup will also have to design software to plot the flight plan and slicing of CAD models within the first three months. The startup will have to start developing proprietary construction materials to be used with the customized flying 3D printer within the next two quarters. The startup will have to start testing the prototype flying drone for 3d Printing with various materials. The startup can then approach various funds to develop the expensive feeder units for the flying drones after the testing phase is successful.

Investment needed for Prototyping Flying 3D printing drones for Construction

The startup can raise upto $200k from accelerators for prototyping the drone, slicing software and the proprietary materials. The startup will have to allocate substantial funds for developing the flight control and slicing software and for developing proprietary construction materials at this stage. No funds should be allocated for operational expenses.

Team capability for this Flying 3D printing drones for Construction

The team for  developing Flying 3D printing Drones should be a mix of people as mentioned below:- a)  Hardware engineer who can program, design, and test the all-weather, all-terrain drones with the compatible software. Strong knowledge of motor drives, advanced batteries, and working knowledge of PCB’s and embedded architecture b)  A software engineer who can design flight paths to avoid obstacles, design behavioral pattern algorithms and use big data to ensure the accuracy of the flight trajectory and stability of the drone. c)  Mechanical engineer with vast experience in 3D CAD modeling, slicing, etc. d)  Structural or materials engineer to develop the composition of proprietary materials and their stability while subjected to 3D printing

Investors/Expert take on Flying 3D printing drones for Construction

The landscape of the 3d industry is changing fast with various developments.There have been numerous industry partnerships with 3D printing companies, e.g., Lafarge with a leading French construction firm Vinci has teamed up with a startup XtreeE to print concrete structure elements with specialized concrete mixtures suited for 3d Printing produced by Lafarge.AECOM, a multinational contractor has signed a three-year agreement with Chinese 3d Printing giant Winsun to speed up 3d Printing adoption for their clients

All these advancements have led to a spurt in the number of startups in the 3d printing arena, the start of 2013; there were barely 20 startups in the field; today, there are about 65 offering various services ranging from prototyping to printing the entire buildings. The last missing piece is the regulations, and political push required for the 3d Printing industry to gain momentum. In the Middle East, UAE is aiming for 25% of new buildings to be printed by 2030; and Saudi Arabia is keen on using 3D printing to reduce its housing deficit. UK has developed a National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing, which could contribute more than $1 billion to annual GDP and create 15,000  jobs by 2025 in the construction industry.In the USA, the Department of Defense is exploring the idea of printing military barracks, using local materials, for its personnel worldwide. All these developments sure will attract investors as 3D printing market is at an inflection point and any novelty brought to the existing 3D printing to increase its adoption rate will be a safe investment bet.

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