Imagine an architect designing a house and then instead of hauling in lumber, the builder sets up a giant 3D printer on the lot. A few days later a house with a foundation and walls is ready to finish.
3D printing on a commercial scale may be some time away, but the process is gaining momentum.
China’s WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. recently built 10 houses in 24 hours, for less than $5,000 each at the Shanghai Hi-Tech Industrial Park. The 2,150-square-foot houses were created using a proprietary mixture of recycled mill tailings and other waste ingredients, along with glass fiber to form a concrete aggregate poured into layers.
The project used four printers 105 feet by 33 feet wide by 22 feet tall to print the components in a factory which were then trucked to the building site. With modeling software designers planned for windows, plumbing, electrical systems, and insulation, which can be added after the walls go up.
This isn’t the only breakthrough in large-scale 3D printing.
The Contour Crafting system, developed by University of Southern California professor Behrokh Khoshnevis, can print a house on-site in 24 hours. Moving back and forth across the building site on rails, the giant-size 3D printer lays down layers of concrete to form walls with cavities. Then in another pass the machine fills the cavities with additional concrete.
Once the structure is complete, workers come in with doors and windows and provide the finishing touches.
The people currently behind these 3D printed houses are mostly focused on providing low-cost housing for the indigent or those displaced by storms. For instance temporary housing could be erected in the wake of a severe hurricane. Or, refugees could move out of tents and into a safe, durable concrete house.
The Canal House project in Amsterdam has a slightly different goal: to keep up with rapidly expanding city limits. It uses printed plastic sections that fit together like a children’s building toy. The oversized 3D printer, called de KamerMaker or “room builder,” creates honeycomb bricks from molten plastic, which builders then snap together like Legos.
The plastic “ink” used for construction is made with an industrial glue that’s 80 percent vegetable oil. The goal is to print with sustainable and recycled materials, but the printer can use any material that melts at the right temperature and then hardens again.
The first segment, a corner of the house with a portion of a staircase, took about a week to print. Eventually the internal structure will be filled with a foam that dries to hardness like concrete.
The project’s founders, DUS architects, expect it to take three years to print and assemble the entire three-story canal house. The architects hope 3D printing will allow housing to keep up with the growing population migration to the cities. Also recycled materials can be incorporated into the building, cutting down the cost of moving building materials. The designers say 3D printing offers greater customization, modifying designs for a homeowner’s needs and tastes.
In the meantime, the site has become an attraction in itself. Personal tours as well as company and school tours are available to interested parties.
The most recent visitor the site? President Barak Obama.
Photo courtesy of WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co.