3D printing technology is already being applied in the construction industry, making possible to build a 230-square-metre house in only 20 hours.
A team of researchers led by University of Southern California professor Behrokh Khoshnevis is developing a robot printer called Contour Crafting which is so versatile, it can be used to build a 230 square metre residence, along with homes in low-income area and areas destroyed by natural disasters.
According to Khoshnevis, 3D printed construction systems offer several benefits when compared to traditional building methods. He said they are faster, safer, more sustainable and more economical. He also pointed out that construction is far behind manufacturing when it comes to automation.
“If you look around yourself, pretty much everything is made automatically today, your shoes, your clothes, home appliances, your car," he said. "The only things that are still built by hand are these buildings."
In addition, 3D printed construction offers unprecedented flexibility in architecture. While traditional manufacturing always uses the same parts/materials with standardized sizes and characteristics, 3D printing makes it possible to create a different model/house each time just by programming it to do so. The device can also tile floors, install plumbing and electrical wiring and apply paint or wallpaper.
"They do not have to look like tract houses because all you have to do is change a computer program. The walls do not have to be linear. They can use any kind of curve. Therefore, you can really execute very exotic beautiful architectural features without incurring extra cost," Khoshnevis said.
There is one disadvantage to using this new technology in the construction industry: the loss of jobs. Khoshnevis argues, however, that it will actually create new jobs that will be safer and that will allow women and older workers to participate more in the construction industry.
“Construction as we know it today is wasteful, costly and often over budget”, he said.
Considered more dangerous for workers than mining and agriculture, construction results in 10,000 deaths a year. The new technology offers construction with less waste, noise, dust or harmful emissions.
Khoshnevis added that NASA supports using this technology to build lunar habitats, research laboratories and ‘roads’ on the moon or Mars. The pace of recovery from disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones or tsunamis could also be significantly quickened.
A number of companies all around the world are planning to commercialize this technology and make it available for lease or purchase in the future, aiming to change the construction industry as we know it, reducing costs and making construction accessible to anyone.
Recently, a Chinese company built 10 prefabricated houses in less than 24 hours, demonstrating the capability and operational excellence of its 3D printer. Built from recycled materials, these homes cost less than US$5,000 to build and could be mass-produced to ease housing crises in developing countries.