Thursday, October 31, 2013

Oh, patents! 3D construction printing

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

 There is more to 3D printing than bio-printing your prion-free T-bone steak! In the future, houses will be printed too! The University of California Industrial Systems Engineering program, in collaboration with NASA, are designing new robotic construction systems to build dwellings using 3D printing processes called Contour Crafting (CC). []

Contour Crafting uses CAD/CAM (Computer-Aided Design/ Computer-Aided Manufacture) to streamline and automate the construction process. The automated dwelling programs are then produced using various types of scaled-up 3D printers. The giant (scaled-up) 3d printers, mounted on a robotic gantry, are designed to deliver concrete through a nozzle, layer by layer, to make the hollow (or ribbed) walls of the whole floor plan, complete with openings for windows, automated reinforcement, plumbing and electrical conduits, even automated tile work and ink-jet painting!. In a single run, it is estimated that it would take approximately 20 hours to extrude a 2500 sq. ft dwelling. Additionally, no single dwelling would have to be identical, nor would it have to be “box-shaped”, with 90-degree angles. The computer programs create the multiplicity of designs, and there are 3-D printers that can also handle curves!

Below is an animation of the Contour Crafting of a whole house.

This well patented technology, awarded to Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis at USC, invokes multiple components and processes: Metering and plumbing devices [EP2623782]; Apparatus for automated construction comprising an extrusion nozzle and a robotic arm
[EP2610417]; Extrusion of cementatious material with different leveling characteristics [US2013059025]; Automated plumbing, wiring and reinforcement [US2012038074]; Dry material transport and extrusion [US2010136340], Robotic Gantry System [HK1136810]; Multi-chamber vibrating valve for cementitious material [US2010112119]; Technologies for sensing material flow rate in automated extrusion [WO2009070580]; Contour crafting extrusion nozzles [WO2009055580]; Extruded wall with rib-like interior [ZA200804559]; Material delivery system using decoupling accumulator [US2007148006]; Compliant, low profile, independently releasing, non-protruding and genderless docking system for robotic modules [US2007286674]; Deployable contour crafting [US2007181519]; Process of making a three-dimensional object [WO0138061]; Hand-heal electronic stereoscopic imaging system with improved three-dimensional imaging capabilities [US2003020807]

Advantageous applications are numerous. First, this technology is both energy and labor-efficient.  Construction of a typical single family home generates 5 to 7 tons of waste while contributing significantly to harmful emissions. Contour Crafting is zero-emission and zero-waste technology, due to high precision of the robotic extrusion process.  The 45- to 55% in reduced labor costs will raise controversy… But so did personal computers, when no one could have imagined the www, or the new economy that was subsumed, including thousands of new professions. And in support of labor efficiency, reduced danger and work-related hazards will surely tip the scales. There are 10,000 construction-related deaths yearly, and more than 400,000 construction-related injuries, yearly, in the US alone. 

Secondly, this is technology that could potentially resolve shelter crises in impoverished areas and urbanized centers, where lo-income neighborhoods could be computer-generated and swiftly erected. There are an estimated 1 billion people living in sub-standard conditions worldwide, according to the UN. 

Similarly, this technology also appears to have applications in natural or man-made disaster areas, that is, in locations wiped out by hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes, or warfare and strife in refugee situations, involving the massive and permanent displacement of populations. There are 37 million uprooted people world-wide. 

Thirdly, NASA is also participating in the development of Contour Crafting technology to build lunar colonies (i.e.; landing pads, roads, hangars, radiation protections walls). Contour Crafting is assumed capable of utilizing in situ resources, lunar regolith to make the cementitious materials that will be used to build colonies with integrated radiation shielding, plumbing, electrical and sensor networks (!) 

And finally, one could be permitted to envision that such an infinitely variable construction process might become fashionable and interesting enough for architects to explore, so that in turn, it might become a more mainstream, real and affordable option, for  anyone who wants a new abode.

Below is a T
ED talk by Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, Director of the Graduate Manufacturing Engineering program at USC and the inventor of Contour Crafting Technology.

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