We’ve heard a lot lately about research into 3D printing as a construction method. Since a new computerized construction technique recently won the 2014 Create the Future Design Contest, we thought we’d revisit the subject—and the specific technique that wowed the judges. Are 3D printing methods inevitable in the future of construction, and if so, how close are they to becoming a common technique on the jobsite?
The Create the Future Design Contest, created by the publishers of NASA Tech Briefs magazine, launched in 2002. Since then, the event has seen more than 8,000 innovative designs from the world’s most creative engineers, students, and others.
This year’s winner bested the competition by creating a fully automated construction process that partners architectural CAD models with 3D printing technology.
Dubbed Contour Crafting, the process was invented by University of Southern California professor Behrokh Khoshnevis. Contour crafting involves using the CAD model to direct robots as they extrude concrete and smooth it with a robotic trowel to create flat, finely contoured walls.
One reason this process won the contest is that it’s currently the only large-scale 3D printing method that can create a complete building. Previous 3D building methods involved creating individual building components that still needed to be assembled on-site.
Faster and Cheaper
Judges found several other cool benefits to this technology that made it a winner. For one thing, because of the speed at which this process can finish a building (up to 50 times faster than traditional construction methods), it helps reduce construction costs by about 30%.
It also results in far less waste, since the computer can precisely calculate and add only the materials needed to finish the project. And the robots that do the extruding and shaping of walls can create any shape—meaning 3D printed houses aren’t limited to square, box-shaped rooms. They can create sleek, curved walls to better fit with the structure’s environment.
But maybe the biggest benefit to the technology is its ability to create fast, affordable housing. This would have obvious benefits in areas struck by natural disaster or in low-income areas.
The Future of Construction? Maybe.
This poses some interesting questions. Is this technology an inevitable reality, or just an interesting idea? Will it pose any challenges to the way work is done today?
The Contour Crafting team predicts it’s two years away from having a full-size prototype, which would be capable of building a 2,500 square-foot structure in 24 hours.
This technology is capturing people’s imaginations and winning awards, but it is still in the experimental stage, and has a way to go to prove itself in the field. While 3D printing construction technologies hold a lot of promise for some applications, human-built construction isn’t going anywhere soon.
Image via Create The Future