Building on innovative foundations

By | Science & Technology
Lunar Construction using the concepts of Contour Crafting. Credit@Dr.Khoshnevis.

The list of applications for 3D printing continues to expand as engineers develop this flexible technology. As the industry grows, so too does the scale and imagination of 3D printing. Contour Crafting is one such novel application which prints full scale buildings.  Developed by Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of Southern California, the process uses a large gantry and computer programme to methodically, and carefully, construct an array of buildings. The consequences of this technology may lead to rapid housing relief to flooded areas, and even the possibility of building on Mars.

Building a house using the concept of Contour Crafting is quick and efficient. In close association with supervising builders the printing system is put into place over the foundations using a crane. Once the printer is erect, the computer programme may begin to run and carefully print the given design. Moving along its axis, the gantry system gradually releases the concrete material, slowly building layer – by- layer until the house is completed. It is one continuous process that may take only a day to complete, compared to six – nine months through standard construction techniques. After the machine lays down the main structure, builders may lay the electrics, plumbing and fit windows.

Building a house using the gantry and 3D printing system. Credit@Dr.Khoshnevis.

Building a house using the gantry and 3D printing system. Credit@Dr.Khoshnevis.

Contour Crafting offers an alternative to house construction, which may greatly benefit developing countries with increasing populations. Dr. Khoshnevis believes that this building method may bring a number of advantages over conventional building. Combined with rapid construction times, the process is highly cost efficient, far safer for builders and more environmentally friendly. Contour Crafting may therefore be a more sustainable process in constructing future buildings. For example, the raw building material may be created from recycled concrete material. The mechanical printing process is also highly efficient, meaning all of these materials are used with utmost precision and care. Dr. Khoshnevis believes that this may provide a safe, sustainable construction environment. The technique is aimed to help provide quick, quality housing relief after such events as floods and earthquakes. The 3D printer would be utilised to provide families with durable housing during these times.

Model construction.Credit@Dr.Khoshnevis.

Model construction. Credit@Dr.Khoshnevis.

Extra-terrestrial construction on Mars and the Moon, may pose a challenge for engineers, as NASA makes plans to send people there by 2035. However, Dr. Khoshnevis believes that the Contour Crafting technology may offer the solution. Working with NASA, Dr.Khoshnevis is analysing the feasibility of using such techniques to build infrastructures on other planets. Constructing landing pads, protection shields and roads on Mars and the Moon would require complex robotics to implement the 3D printing technique. Engineers were previously challenged by the transport of materials from earth. However, the robots may be able to use rocky materials already on Mars or the Moon. This may make construction far more cost effective. Perhaps Mars may one day be colonised by large communities of scientists, all working in laboratories built by Khoshnevis’ technological vision.

Whilst much of this work is in the planning stage, printed houses have been successfully utilised in China. A firm in Shanghai built 10 houses using a mixture of recycled construction material, glass fibre and cement. Whilst their technique involved transporting the printed parts to the site (unlike Contour Crafting’s which prints on site), the process demonstrates its feasibility and effectiveness. All 10 houses were built in just 24 hours and individually cost £3000. Similarly, architect Adam Kushner is undertaking the ambitious task of constructing the first 3D printed estate in New York. The estate includes a swimming pool and a 4 bedroom house. The use of 3D printing in house building is spreading through the construction industry, filling architects with confidence over its sustainable and creative approach.

3D house building technology, such as Contour Crafting, may one day build the cities of the future, making the process both quick and efficient, in order to sustain a growing population. Its applications are far reaching: from managing sustainable building techniques on Earth, to effectively building new civilisations on other planets. 3D printing has much to offer to the progression of mankind.

How else might 3D printed houses benefit societies?

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