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3D printer constructs 10 buildings in one day from recycled materials

July 2, 2014 03:12 PM ET

The machines can also automatically embed all the conduits for electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning systems, as well as place electronic sensors to monitor the building's temperature and health over time.

Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of industrial and systems engineering at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering, is leading the effort to perfect the Contour Crafting construction technology.

A Contour Crafting machine, which is made up of a metal gantry frame, along with the robotic extruding system, weighs about 500 lbs. It comes in two pieces and can be put together quickly on a construction site.

Each layer of concrete extruded by the machine is 4 inches thick and about 6 inches in height. Special hardeners are used in the concrete to ensure that the material is hard enough to support the next layer by the time the machine circumnavigates the outside perimeter of a structure.

Khoshnevis said he believes that 3D printing could be used to build everything from affordable housing in third-world countries to facilities on other planets -- using materials native to those planets.

Unlike Yingchuang's 3D printers, which build structures one wall at a time, Contour Crafting's machines construct an entire building in one continuous movement.

More recently, Dutch design studio Dus Architects built a canal house in Amsterdam using a portable 3D printer that it created, called a KamerMaker (RoomMaker).

To build the canal house, Dus used thermoplastic material to print pieces that measured about 6 ft. x 6 ft. x 12 ft. in size. The pieces were assembled on site like Lego blocks.

Unlike both Dus Architects' and Contour Crafting's 3D printing equipment, Yingchuang's technology extrudes recycled construction materials, such as sand, concrete and glass fiber.

The canal house that Dus Architects built using thermoplastic pieces created by the KramerMaker 3D printer. (Photo: Dus Architects)

Based in Suzhou, China, Yingchuang has been developing the 3D printing construction technology for 12 years, according to a report from Chinese television company CNC World.

Yihe believes 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing technology, could be used to build skyscrapers made with pulverized materials from demolished buildings.

Yihe would like to build 100 recycling factories in China, according to the 3D printing design website, 3ders. His plan is to collect building debris and then process it to make inexpensive building material for use in Yingchuang's 3D printers.

Additionally, Yihe told 3ders that Tomson, a well-known housing developer, has approached him with a plan to build a villa.

A news report shows the fused deposition modeling 3D printers creating homes in a factory.

covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at Twitter @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed Mearian RSS. His email address is

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