The 3D Printed Concrete House

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By Joshua Ostrer

USC group designs printer capable of making a house in a day

Scientists at Contour Crafting – Robotic Construction System have designed a three-dimensional printer that they claim is capable of crafting an entire house in a single day.

3D printing, the process of creating a three-dimensional solid object from a digital model, has taken leaps and strides forward in recent years as the cost of production rapidly plummets for both household and industrial three-dimensional printers.

The process of three-dimensional printing works by an additive process where the printer layers on material based on a digital model designed before the printing process begins.

While three dimensional printing has mainly been done with plastics, as they are easier to melt down and produce through a precise nozzle, many groups are attempting to adapt the printing process to work with new mediums.

Various groups are currently attempting to make human organs using the process, however, Contour Crafting has been able to adapt the process to use concrete.

Contour Crafting is a group headed by Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering and Civil & Environmental Engineering, Director of the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT) and the Director of Manufacturing Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Southern California.

According to the group’s website, “The success of the technology stems from the automated use of age-old tools normally wielded by hand, combined with conventional robotics and an innovative approach to building three-dimensional objects that allows rapid fabrication times. Actual scale civil structures such as houses may be built by CC [Contour Crafting]. Contour Crafting has been under development under support from the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.”

Basically, Contour Crafting has developed a process of rapidly completing three dimensional printing on a large scale using concrete, and they hope to expand that process to enable them to construct entire houses. If their expectations are indeed correct, they believe an entire house can be constructed in a single day.

Contour Crafting outlined its objectives in its 2004 Urban Initiative Policy brief.

The brief details that “In addition to the enormous economic potential, CC had been designed to deliver improved quality of life, superior safety, and beneficial environmental impact. In this sense, CC will enable the construction of custom-designed, low-cost housing with a level of quality heretofore unobtainable.”

Is a revolution in housing construction really necessary? It appears so.

It currently takes six to nine months to construct the average American home, and Contour Crafting would shorten that period to a single day.

Contour Crafted homes can also provide long-term emergency shelters in the aftermath of natural disasters, a resource that could prove far superior to the tents that are currently used.

In their policy brief, Contour Crafting also promises “construction without waste, noise, dust or harmful emission” due to its electrical nature, as is the case with all three-dimensional printers.

Contour Crafting believes that sustainability is a crucial element in the future of housing, stating that there is a necessity for an alternative to the current processes which “contribute significantly to harmful emissions and construction of a typical single-family home generates a waste stream of about three to seven tons. Globally, more than 40 percent of all raw materials are consumed in construction.”

Contour Crafting has admirable goals, but how close are they to actually bringing them to fruition?

The group is currently in its Pre-Phase 1 stage, which consists of creating a variety of small objects using clay, plaster and concrete as well as “testing full-scale concrete wall sections for conformance to building codes.”

The group’s biggest bragging stock is currently a six-foot-tall concrete wall constructed by the printer. The household-printer works by having two ‘printing arms’ on tracks set down by workers on each side of the foundation of the house.

The arms, reaching six meters, two stories high, are then capable of printing both normal and load-bearing walls.

Contour Crafting definitely has a long way to go, but it’s on its way.

The group has high hopes, constructing single-residence structures is only Phase 1 of their plan.

According to its policy brief, Phase 2 contains plans to create “larger community and multi-residence structures. For apartment buildings, hospitals, schools and government buildings.”

Finally, phase 3 consists of “Adaptation of CC for the construction of entire communities, including residential, public, and commercial building, as well as certain infra-structures such as pavements, landscapes, water, reservoirs, etc. … we will also address local building codes for commercial deployment of CC in the U.S.”

Three-dimensional printing has taken off in the past couple years and is posed to have drastic effects on the manufacturing, technology industries as well as the world-economy, and it seems as if Contour Crafting might very well expand that list to include the housing industries across the entire world.

For more information on Contour Crafting or to see videos of the printing process, visit www.contourcrafting.org.

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