Starting as a niche technology, 3D printing has been around for a long time. And talk of how this technology could transform the construction industry, largely theoretical, has long circulated, too. But now, thanks to young entrepreneurs Chris Kelsey and Fernando De los Rios, we can expect to see 3D printing robots on building sites rather than hundred of masons in Dubai, and around the world.
The Silicon Valley-based duo has joined forces with the Dubai government, which has set a target for 25% of buildings to be 3D-printed by 2030 in the emirate.
“It’s an incredibly exciting time to be involved with this technology, as it presents great promise in terms of efficiency and capabilities,” says Kelsey, CEO and cofounder of Cazza, a 3D printing construction technology launched in 2016.
The startup plans to create large-scale developments in Dubai using its 3D printing robots — a giant, mobile piece of crane-like equipment. “Our technology will change the construction industry, as we are able to drastically cut labor and material costs, and time.” According to Cazza, its 3D printing robots are capable of constructing low-rise buildings, while the technology for skyscrapers is still being tested.
A serial entrepreneur, Kelsey, who grew up in California, began to seriously look at the market for 3D printing in construction early last year, using the proceeds generated from the sale of an earlier company – an app and website development business known as Appsitude that he founded when he was 17.
After he sold his business, Kelsey says, “I was planning to invest in a construction company developing technology in 3D printing space but I couldn’t find any that matched what I was looking for.” That’s when Kelsey and his cofounder De los Rios, decided to set up their own firm. Last December, they enrolled in the Dubai Future Accelerators program — where startups from all over the world partner with the Dubai government to build, test and deploy solutions for 21st-century challenges.
“We have a large presence in Dubai as the government invited us to collaborate with it on its upcoming projects. We moved part of our team here now,” says Kelsey. Kelsey, 20, and De Los Rios, 26, were on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list this year.
Developing a startup creating hardware such as robots is considerably more expensive than software development. After having invested “in the low millions” for research and development of its technology, Cazza closed a seed round at a $25 million valuation. “We are going to open our series A soon, and expecting around $35 million revenue by the end of the year,” he says.
This month, Cazza’s 3D printing construction robots are up for sale. “Countries from all over the world, including Italy, Singapore, South Africa, Maldives and the U.K., are showing interest in our technology,” claims Kelsey.
And, that’s not surprising, he says. “It is the also the most sustainable approach to construction as it allows environmentally friendly materials to be used, and also reduces construction waste.”
Cazza wants to automate as much of the construction process as possible, from laying down foundation and building walls to developing its own construction material. “We have set up facilities in the U.S. and Europe for manufacturing our different technologies,” says Kelsey.
Others have claimed to build houses with 3D printers, such as Chinese company Winsun that built 3D-printed 10 concrete houses in a day. But what makes Cazza’s technology unique is its portability. “It can be easily used and moved on the construction site. We are also the only company in the world that has developed high-altitude 3D printing construction technologies,” says Kelsey.
In a broader sense, Cazza’s feat is yet another indication of how rapidly 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, techniques are advancing. Once used primarily as a means to quickly render miniature model versions of products, the technology has reached a point where large-scale printers are now capable of making life-sized working creations in mere days.
“The market is steadily opening further, as the technology has become much more advanced. Within the next five years, we see this technology becoming commonplace in most first world countries.”