The International Information Center for Structural Engineers

Friday, 17 February 2017 01:00cat

3D concrete printer could construct an entire two-story house in a day while drastically reducing material and energy consumption

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A huge but yet mobile 3D printer has been developed by Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, Dean’s Professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering, Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering, Astronautics Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC), as well as Director of the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT). Its function is based on his idea about Contour Crafting (CC), a layered fabrication technology with great potential in automating the construction of whole structures that could also reduce material use, waste and energy consumption. An entire two-story house of 2,500 ft2 could be built in a day, without supervision! And because these machines can scale to great sizes, they will eventually be used to even build skyscrapers.

The very first printers will soon become available in the market, at prices starting at around $200,000 depending on their size and capability. Contour Crafting is a promising technology, whose widespread usage is expected by 2020-2025. “We will be an equipment provider. We do not plan to get into the building construction business. We will sell or lease the machines”, says Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis.

How it works

Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis proposes mobile large-scale, lightweight 3D printers which can be transported to a job site quite easily. There, the machine is assembled and can begin constructing homes or other large structures. Once the space around the site is prepared and the foundation is in place, computer-controlled robotic arms move the nozzle back and forth, squeezing out layers of concrete or other material to create a form, in which all the conduits for electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning are embedded. When it comes to window head jambs and metal ceiling, additional work done by a crew is required. The machine, which runs along a set of tracks and can work on different parts of the house simultaneously, will be capable of printing not only exterior concrete walls, but even insulation and drywall. “We have printed drywall material. We will print insulation. Wiring will be for [a] future stage,” explains Khoshnevis.  


There are various potential applications of this technology. Emergency, low-income, and commercial housing are some of them, but there is also undergoing research on how Contour Crafting could be feasible for building habitats on other planets and in fact it seems a very promising approach. The important issue that applies to all situations however, is its ability to print structures that pass the various safety inspection guidelines worldwide.


Contour Crafting has been selected as one of the top 25 (out of more than 4000 candidates) inventions by the History Channel Modern Marvels program and the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame and has been identified as one of the major disruptive technologies of our time. In 2014, Contour Crafting received the Grand Prize among 1000+ globally competing technologies in the ‘Create the Future Design Contest’ organized by NASA and in 2016, the Selective Separation Sintering (SSS) Additive Manufacturing technology also developed by Dr. Khoshnevis received the Grand Prize in the In-Situ Challenge international competition again sponsored by NASA.


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