3D printing of a house


When 3D printing came on the scene, I imagined that it would be pretty useful for the custom manufacture of small items. But its applications have gone well beyond my imaginings and the latest example is the ability to build an 650 square foot house in about 12-24 hours for a cost of just $10,000. The people behind it hope to reduce the cost to around $4,000.

It was unveiled today at the SXSW conference currently being held in Austin, TX and it is hoped to use this technology to provide good quality housing to poor people in the developing world.

See how it is done.

Comments

  1. jaxkayaker says

    Presumably it could be used to provide inexpensive housing to poor people in developed countries as well as in the developing world.

    As always, these new technologies come with trade-offs. It’s likely that eventually it will be possible to 3D print entire high-rises, not to mention it will be possible to 3D print the 3D printers themselves. A big part of the reduction of costs is automation and the reduced need for labor. In the not-too-distant future it is likely there will be far more people than jobs worldwide and it is likely that condition will continue for some time.

    p.s. you have a typo: “itesms” (sic)

  2. chigau (違う) says

    I think that anyone who thinks this technology will be used to benefit poor people…
    is dreaming in technicolor.

  3. jaxkayaker says

    To continue my train of thought, which I failed to write out fully and explicitly, I wonder to what extent the advent of this method of building will actually result in more poor people who will need this type of inexpensive housing to be built for them because the technology makes many unskilled labor jobs unnecessary.

  4. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    Sorry to be a grump about this, but looking at the very small amount of the video that shows the actual house, I could see this much: the “printing” is of cement to form the foundation and walls. That’s it. In some of the quick shots of the finished house (e.g. at 1:14), it is clear that the roof is made of framed lumber and held up by steel posts, so that had to be assembled by ordinary carpenters. And the windows and doors are sitting in wood frames so the carpenters were involved there also. Interior walls visible about 1:17 have been painted or stucco’d, i.e. the printed structure needs surface finishing. And the bathroom shot visible very briefly around 1:20 reminds us that plumbing had to be installed. Were the drains and water pipes printed? Or installed after, in “printed” cavities?

    In any case, building and installing the roof and plumbing and finishing the interior must have added quite a bit of time not accounted for in the “under 24 hours” claim, which seems to apply only to the printing part. What I would like to know is, how long would it take a team of practiced masons to erect the same very basic foundation and walls, using ordinary concrete block? I’m betting not a whole lot longer than 3, 8-hour shifts.

  5. jaxkayaker says

    Fair points, but machines don’t have to take lunch breaks and don’t need light to work. They can’t (yet) form unions. Using machines for this is likely to make many masons redundant and to decrease the marginal costs of house building, even if some hands-on physical labor remains necessary.

  6. komarov says

    It seems counterintuitive to print the home right where it’s supposed to stand. It avoids having to transport pre-made parts (even if they were just bricks) over large distances. But you could achieve the same by setting up a printer in a neighbourhood where you want to construct lots of homes and have it churn out parts that can be put together. It would at least save you the trouble of having to set up the printer time and again for each new house. The workers who’d be doing that would instead be putting parts together. And while the modular / piece-wise approach might not be quite as sturdy as a “single-piece” set of walls it would also be ore flexible in terms of what is being constructed (without having to reprogram or even redesign your printer).

  7. Dunc says

    But you could achieve the same by setting up a printer in a neighbourhood where you want to construct lots of homes and have it churn out parts that can be put together. […] And while the modular / piece-wise approach might not be quite as sturdy as a “single-piece” set of walls it would also be ore flexible in terms of what is being constructed (without having to reprogram or even redesign your printer).

    And if you follow that logic to it’s conclusion, you end up re-inventing the brick kiln. Or sun-dried mud bricks.

    Alternatively, you could just use long-established shuttering techniques with poured concrete or rammed earth, which would be even cheaper and doesn’t require any clever machinery… But then you wouldn’t have the hook of a fashionable new technology to reel in that VC cash.

    There are plenty of cheap, fast, low-tech building techniques out there – every community on Earth has it’s own vernacular building techniques, uniquely adapted to the local resources and conditions – so I suspect that the problem with providing housing to the poor isn’t down to construction techniques. I’m also innately suspicious of the idea that there’s a universally-applicable solution to a problem like this.

  8. komarov says

    That’s pretty much it, yes. Prinitng parts or even complete structures only really has an advantage if
    1) processing resources into building blocks is faster or less labour-intensive this way, or
    2) the resulting building material is somehow “more advanced” than anything that could otherwise be made* (e.g. multifunctional or exceptional properties such as insulation or durability).

    I suppose the “fashion hook” isn’t the worst thing though, if it gets people to invest who ordinarily wouldn’t. Even if this organisation isn’t the most efficient way to tackle housing problems, perhaps at least they’ll put something into motion. Maybe they’ll surprise us all by eventually developing a technology that does outperform traditional methods in terms of cost and / or speed. Stranger things have happened, although speculative “tech optimism” is usually not warranted.

    *A tall order if we assume local resources are being used.

  9. Dunc says

    Prinitng parts or even complete structures only really has an advantage if
    1) processing resources into building blocks is faster or less labour-intensive this way

    If we’re talking about the developing world, then labour intensity probably isn’t that big a deal, at least not when compared to capital cost. They have lots of labour, but little capital. This is another reason why low-tech solutions tend to work better – technology is largely a matter of replacing labour with capital expenditure, which is generally only a good idea if you’ve got plenty of capital handy.

    I suppose the “fashion hook” isn’t the worst thing though, if it gets people to invest who ordinarily wouldn’t.

    Well, only if that investment actually manages to achieve anything other than letting a bunch of nerds play with toys, and also doesn’t divert any investment that might otherwise have gone to something more useful.

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