While China's stock market continues levitating at an ever more amusing pace, this is happening at the expense of China's far more important housing market, which sadly for three-quarters of China's population (in the US 75% of household assets are in financial products, in China: in real estate) continues to deflate at a rate faster than US housing in the aftermath of Lehman. And for better or worse, Chinese home prices are likely set to drop even more, and not due to something as arcane as glitches in fiscal or monetary policy, but something far more tangible: technological advances, and specifically - 3D printed houses.
Meet WinSun: the Chinese company has been documented to print 10 complete houses in 24 hours, using a proprietary 3D printer that uses a mixture of ground construction and industrial waste, such as glass and tailings, around a base of quick-drying cement mixed with a special hardening agent. But while this in itself is impressive, the punchline is the cost: the houses can be produced for under $5,000, which means that if adopted widely, 3D printing can lead to a collapse in prices of new home construction across China, which while good for new buyers could be catastrophic for the economy and the banking sector where nearly $30 trillion in commercial loans are collateralized almost entirely by China's overinflated housing sector.
Not content with building single-family houses (and WinSun's own office), WinSun recently made history when it demonstrated the world's first entirely 3D-printed five-story apartment building and a 1,100 square metre (11,840 square foot) villa, complete with decorative elements inside and out, on display at Suzhou Industrial Park.
According to CNET, while the company hasn't revealed how large it can print pieces, based on photographs on its website, they are quite sizeable and ornate. A CAD design is used as a template, and the computer uses this to control the extruder arm to lay down the material "much like how a baker might ice a cake," WinSun said. The walls are printed hollow, with a zig-zagging pattern inside to provide reinforcement. This also leaves space for insulation.
This process saves between 30 and 60 percent of construction waste, and can decrease production times by between 50 and 70 percent, and labour costs by between 50 and 80 percent. In all, the villa costs around $161,000 to build.
And, using recycled materials in this way, the buildings decrease the need for quarried stone and other materials -- resulting in a construction method that is both environmentally forward and cost effective.
WinSun hopes to use its technology on much larger scale constructions, such as bridges and even skyscrapers, which means this is just the beginning of not only conveyer houses, but of massive price deflation across China's housing market, which judging by the relentless plunge in Chinese inflation and the hard landing the local economy has found itself in, may have come at the worst possible time.
In conclusion, one can only hope that WinSun "Quality Control" checklist is a little broader than some of its Chinese peers whose rush to the finish, often times leads to unfortunate consequences.