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Dubai, Saudi Arabia Drive 3D Printing Revolution in Arab World

Construction, medical sectors see rapid adoption of new technology as companies respond to pandemic by innovating

In a bid to reduce their reliance on foreign imports, Dubai and Saudi Arabia are becoming leading hubs for 3D printing technology in the Arab world.

Earlier this month, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai, announced the launch of the 3D Printing Strategic Alliance.

The project’s aim is to help develop, test and deploy 3D printing technology. It features a broad network of government agencies, companies and academic institutions in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As part of the initiative, the emirate will also build a district housing research centers and startups.

“Our goal is to accelerate the adoption and use of this emerging technology to support all governmental, economic, health and scientific sectors in Dubai and the world,” the prince tweeted, adding that the through the alliance, Dubai hoped to “achieve self-sufficiency.”

Our goal is to accelerate the adoption and use of this emerging technology to support all governmental, economic, health and scientific sectors in Dubai and the world

In line with the sheikh’s vision, a growing number of 3D printing companies are seeking to establish a foothold in the Middle Eastern city, including the Danish firm COBOD International, a leading 3D construction printing provider.

Henrik Lund-Nielsen, founder and general manager of COBOD International, told The Media Line that “a lot of requests” were coming from Dubai for its technology despite the pandemic.

“I think 3D printing will have a huge impact [in the region],” Lund-Nielsen affirmed.

“What we’re seeing right now are the first sporadic examples, such as showcases and demos, but we’re on the brink of converting that from initial interest into the first multi-unit commercial project,” he said, adding: “We’re already being asked for things like 10-20 buildings or even 100 buildings at the same time.”

According to Lund-Nielsen, a “prestigious customer” from Dubai whom he declined to name recently finished building an eye-catching building using one of COBOD’s printers. However, the client has decided not to publicize the project until the coronavirus outbreak levels off.

Saudi Arabia has also been enthusiastically moving forward with requests for printers.

“We have a distributor in Saudi Arabia, and they bought the biggest printer sold or made anywhere in the world,” Lund-Nielsen said, referring to the BOD2 printer.

The BOD2, by COBOD, is the world’s largest construction printer. (Courtesy)

The BOD2 is a modular machine capable of printing buildings measuring 88 feet long and 33 feet tall. The printer retails for anywhere between $500,000 to $1 million and works by printing layers of concrete to make walls. A Saudi company, Elite for Construction & Development Co., purchased a unit last year and hopes to build some 1.5 million homes with it in the next decade.

How long it takes to fully print a building depends on construction specifications, Lund-Nielsen says.

“In any event, I can guarantee you that it’ll be faster than if you applied conventional technology,” he asserted, noting that the BOD2 printer can print a 10,000-square-foot building.

Due to travel restrictions in place for COVID-19 and in order to meet growing demand for its products, COBOD has decided to establish offices in Dubai in the near future.

“For people to actually invest in this new technology, they need to come here [to Denmark], see the 3D-printed buildings and live demonstrations,” Lund-Nielsen explained. “Since Mohammad cannot come to the mountain, we have to bring the mountain to Mohammad.”

Dubai is already home to several successful local 3D printing outfits.

Founded in 2014, Generation 3D is a printing service provider that specializes in large-scale architecture and design projects. The company works with hundreds of clients across the region, from private institutions to government bodies.

“We see 3D printing as part of a solution to make the region less dependent on imports,” Dominic Wright, co-founder and business development director at Generation 3D, told The Media Line. “We are proud to be a part of the UAE ecosystem, and we see part of our role and responsibility is to create great products locally and attract and develop the best talent to remain within the UAE.”

We see 3D printing as part of a solution to make the region less dependent on imports

In response to the pandemic, Generation 3D recently launched a new line of products made out of a special nano-copper material that is 99.9% effective against viruses and bacteria. Among them is a phone holder called “Clinicase.”

Generation 3D recently launched a new line of products, including this phone case. (Courtesy)

“As we are designers and problem-solvers naturally,” Wright said.

“We saw the data around smartphones, and the average smartphone has 10 times more bacteria than a toilet seat, so we decided to act,” he continued. “We now have a full product range for iPhone and Samsung, and we will be in most major retailers over the next two months.”

Another Dubai-based company making inroads in the region is Xplorer 3D, which works in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, education, health care, defense and culture. Originally founded in Pakistan in 2012, the company expanded across the Middle East and now has offices not only in Dubai, but in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as well.

Tooba Alam, a spokesperson for Xplorer 3D, told The Media Line that the company has worked with over 800 organizations and clients in the past five years. Among them are big names like the American University of Dubai and PepsiCo.

Xplorer 3D’s desktop X-Proto printer, which retails for roughly $625. (Courtesy)

Like Wright, Alam believes that the technology could help the region become more self-sufficient in the long run.

“Dubai and the UAE have emerged amongst the leading countries in the world when it comes to the adoption of 3D printing technology,” she said. “Be it construction, education or manufacturing, the technology has helped in localized manufacturing and innovation. Dubai not only has the world’s tallest building, but also the largest 3D-printed building.”

Nevertheless, the pandemic has presented Xplorer 3D with some unique challenges since some of its core employees are currently stuck in various parts of the world, Alam revealed. In response to the coronavirus, the firm has decided to focus its technological knowhow on helping Pakistani health workers by printing personal protective equipment (PPE).

“UAE, being a developed country, was well-equipped to deal with the pandemic. Xplorer 3D collaborated with multiple… organizations and companies to produce 3D printed masks, face shields, air guards and related personal protective gear,” she noted.

“We brought… different, engineers, manufacturers and designers on board to tackle the growing pandemic situation,” she continued. “Now we have a surplus, which is being exported across the globe.”