3D printing has incredible potential to overhauling manufacturing. The same principles could upend building construction too.
Contour crafting is the brainchild of Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of Southern California. The process involves feeding data to a machine that sprays and smooths out walls and structural components using nozzles, arms, and other tools. Khoshnevis’ team imagines using this technology for commercial construction, low-income and emergency housing, and possibly space colony construction.
The nozzles spray concrete along a contour path to shape the walls of a structure, hence the name. Setups can be configured in a variety of ways and can incorporate other equipment as well. The concrete mix is provided by USG, a worldwide construction materials company. Caterpillar, a major construction equipment manufacturer, has put investment into research of the technology.
The arms and nozzles make multiple passes to reinforce the materials. Buildings are essentially assembled in layers automatically along a grid: One section of the machine moves vertically, while another moves horizontally.
The speed at which a building can be built using this technology and the design quality of the finished product may enable it to become the construction industry’s next big thing, according to Times Journal of Construction and Design. The benefits could include a safer work zone, speedy completion, and consistent quality. Machines do all the work with amazing efficiency, which could also mean significant cost savings through a decrease in human labor.
Large construction enterprises may have to use custom configurations with multiple machines, and possibly other equipment for support initially, or they may require larger-scale machines that are developed with these huge projects in mind. But smaller construction jobs would need only a basic configuration with one machine. Components such as siding, windows, and fixtures may also be installed by robotic arms, either automated in conjunction with contour crafting or as a part of the process itself. Contour crafting might be a solution for building emergency housing thanks to its speed and low construction costs. It could be used for new construction in developing nations, too.
Contour crafting could even be used in space. Countries including the U.S., China, and Russia have discussed long-term missions on the moon and Mars. Khoshnevis believes his technology is the answer for building robust structures on other worlds. He also believes materials on the moon can be used to fabricate structures and other useful goods for lunar habitats.
Research is ongoing to determine the best geometric design schemes for architecture design use, methods of material delivery, and other aspects of the process.
Photo credit: Removing the Shackles