Giant 3D Printer “Prints” Complete Houses In 24 Hours

By Mo Mozuch on August 9, 2012 11:44 AM EDT

photo:contourcrafting.org
photo:contourcrafting.org

Contour Crafting, an engineering company affiliated with the university of Southern California, is developing an industrial-sized printer capable of creating an entire house in less than a day.  The structures are not designed to win any "best homes" awards, but rather, are aimed at providing a solution to areas where immediate, reliable housing is needed, such as disaster relief.

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"Initially it will be most beneficial to developing countries to eradicate their slums. Next is emergency shelter construction where war and natural disaster uproots thousands of people," Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of engineering and director of the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies, or CRAFT, at the University of Southern California, told txchnologist.com. "[It] can build much cheaper and much faster and can produce dignified housing rather than tents and boxes."

The machine builds homes from concrete, and fast. It builds walls at the rate of one square foot every twenty seconds. A room takes about an hour. Human laborers supplement the Contour Crafting machine, so it is not completely independent. A team of workers is required to set up the device, which can fit inside a standard flat-bed truck. Architects upload design software on-site, and construction workers prepare the concrete and ensure there is plenty on hand for the printer to use.  They also install doors and windows in the home. Khoshnevis believes Contour Crafting machines can be modified to install electrical and plumbing fixtures as well. The machine is still a few years away from being completed, and its first project is likely to be out of this world. Literally.

NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program gave the CRAFT team a $100,000 grant in 2011 because of their machine's potential to build lunar structures. The company has a section on its website dedicated to space exploration, and the role their structures could serve in colonizing the moon and beyond.

"The ability to fabricate extraterrestrial habitats, laboratories or manufacturing facilities is the key element for long-term human survival on the Moon or Mars. Our proposal develops an automated in situ construction system that is viable, economical, practical and with applicability within a decade for Earth-Moon operations," says a statement from Contour Crafting on the site.

In addition to disaster relief and lunar colonies, the machine is also getting the attention of architects looking to build homes with modern designs that are too costly to make by hand. The Contour Crafting machine can make elegant curves, for instance, that currently require skilled masons.

"Compared to current concrete construction, you really only have two options: building layer by layer and building foward," Khoshnevis told mashable.com. "The advantage that contour crafting offers is free-form structures that have any kind of shape."

The decrease in construction costs allows for more investment in building materials. Khoshnevis believes that the buildings his machines make in the future will be more durable than structures built by today's conventional standards.

"We have a process: Whatever you design and whatever material you feed into it, it will execute," Khoshnevis said. "We can make the cost of construction so low that we can put money into the materials. The buildings of the future will be stronger."

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