Lafarge Cement opens new plant, lays foundation for 3D-printed houses

Lafarge's new dry mortar plant: the company plans to introduce 3D-printed housing

Lafarge has commissioned a new US$2.8m dry mortar plant, part of a US$25m expansion plan by the cement maker to take advantage of growing demand for building materials.

The new plant, supplied by Turkish company Varlik, will sharply increase output of dry mortar products – such as adhesives and agricultural lime – from just 7,000 tonnes per year to 100,000 tonnes annually, equal to national demand, the company said.

Lafarge also plans to use output from the new plant to launch a daring product; 3D-printed low-cost housing.

A separate Vertical Cement Mill plant, part of Lafarge’s expansion plan, is under construction and expected to be complete in the first quarter of 2022. This plant will more than double Lafarge’s annual cement milling capacity from the current 450,000 tonnes to 1 million tonnes.

“This capacity expansion translates to a guaranteed business growth opportunity for the partners in our value chain. Lafarge currently offers a range of dry mortar products which include the tile adhesive range known as Supafix which has made significant inroads in the individual home builders segment,” said Precious Nyika, CEO Lafarge Zimbabwe. 

Demand for lime has grown, driven by government purchases for the Pfumvudza programme. In the third quarter of last year, Lafarge reported that the unit that makes lime grew 64%, driven by winter planting and Pfumvudza. Lafarge supplied 10,000 tonnes of lime to Pfumvudza last year, and the new plant will increase output to 40,000 tonnes.

Companies in construction anticipate strong volumes this year on demand for private housing and government infrastructure projects.

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Lafarge’s 3D plans

With the new plant, Lafarge plans to test the local market’s appetite for 3G-printed housing. The tech is supplied by 14Trees, a low-cost housing venture jointly owned by LafargeHolcim and the CDC Group, the UK’s development finance arm.

The dry mortar mix plant will produce the 3D “printing ink” for the local market. With 3D construction, a structure is moulded from the special mortar and built from the ground up.

“The material is pushed through a nozzle which regulates flow and is guided by computer-controlled positioning process. The material used in the process is cement-based with sand and specially designed admixtures as additives,” Lafarge says.

Construction time is cut by up to 70%, while walls are 50mm thick compared to the standard 140mm. Lafarge estimates that 3D will cut building costs by up to 50%.

Despite these numbers, Nyika recently admitted that the biggest task would not be the technology or cost; it will be convincing the local market – from customers, contractors and regulators – to accept this new way of building.

Lafarge hopes to push for acceptance by building model units. Ten demo units will be built in Knockmalloch, a low-cost housing project coming up in Norton.

Says Lafarge: “This project will afford relevant stakeholders to witness and experience the capabilities of this and innovative technology and it is anticipated that this will attract more projects towards the use of the technology to provide decent affordable housing.”