Printing the Future

Posted in Trends on Mar. 10, 2016

While being around since 1984, 3D printing has come leaps and bounds in the past few years. We’ve seen everything from small models to functional human body parts. Architecture has recently broken into the field in a big way. Perhaps the most exciting technology for the industry has been the ability to 3D print using extruded concrete. Down at the University of Southern California, Behrokh Khoshnevis has developed such technology. The process, he calls Contour Crafting, utilizes a trowel and hardener system attached to the extrusion nozzle to layer concrete without using formwork. The whole system is mounted on a robotic arm that allows it to create unique sweeping forms, as well as traditional rectilinear construction. In 2014, Contour Crafting was awarded the grand prize in the NASA Tech Briefs Create the Future Design Contest. As the process becomes more streamlined, the possibilities could be limitless.

There are several important areas where the technology is looking to be implemented that could take design and construction to places previously unimaginable. First, it could reduce injuries on job sites by increasing efficiency in construction techniques. Construction is one of the most deadly professions one can undertake, accounting for more than 20% of all private sector worker fatalities. Second, Khoshnevis estimates that Contour Crafting could complete a 2,500 square foot home in roughly 24 hours. This massive increase in efficiency could help solve the global, and rapidly growing, issue of homelessness. Extrusion requires less material to create a similarly thick wall than current techniques and, as stated earlier, requires no formwork. The system would bring the cost and speed of construction low enough to provide for many needy families around the world.

Looking past how the system can help those on Earth, Khoshnevis sees the system as capable of use on the moon, mars, and beyond. He has also been developing a process of laser sintering rock and dust from extra-terrestrial sources to provide materials for extrusion that would not require water. While we are undoubtedly several years away from putting bodies on Mars, it’s nice to see that architecture has already considered the possibility, and there are those working out how the human race can carry their designs out into the galaxy.

For additional information see Behrokh Khoshnevis’ TED talk below and