3D Printer Constructs 10 Buildings in One Day From Recycled Materials

The 3D printers could someday be used to build skyscrapers from the recycled materials of other buildings.

A Chinese company has become the first to construct multiple buildings using 3D printers that extrude recycled building materials at breakneck speed.

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Using four huge 3D printers, Yingchuang New Materials Inc. was able to print the shells of 10 houses in 24 hours and at a cost of only about $5,000 per building.

The 3D printed buildings will be used as offices at a Shanghai industrial park.

Video: A demonstration of Yingchuang New Materials constructing the walls of a building with its massive 3D printer.

The printers, supplied by the WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co., are 20 feet tall, 33 feet wide and 132 feet long.

Like their desktop counterparts, the construction-grade WinSun 3D printers use a fused deposition modeling (FDM) technology to deposit materials one layer at a time like squeezing frosting from a pastry bag.

A computer using a CAD design controls a mechanical extruder arm to lay down the concrete, which is treated with special hardeners so that each layer is hard enough to support the next as the machine moved back and forth.

The buildings are constructed in parts inside Yingchuang New Materials' factory, one wall at a time, and then joined together at the build site.

The Yingchuang factory and research center, a 33,000 square foot building, was also constructed using the 3D printing manufacturing technique. It only took one month to construct, according to Ma Yihe, the founder and president of the company.

Yingchuang is not the first organization to use 3D printing to create structures, even if it is the first to prove the technique for constructing multiple buildings in a single day.

Several years ago, researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) also demonstrated 3D printing techniques to construct entire buildings in less than a day.

As outrageous as it sounds, such machines can already extrude concrete walls with internal reinforcement fast enough to complete the shell of a 2,000-sq. ft. house in under 20 hours.

The robotic extruding method, called Contour Crafting, is comparable to its smaller 3D desktop printer counterparts in that it takes its orders from CAD software, which stores and executes the architectural designs. The designs can be customized on a construction site even as work is underway.

The machines can also automatically embed all the conduits for electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning, 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 the USC 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 pounds. It comes in two pieces and can be quickly erected on a construction site.

Each layer of concrete extruded by the machine is four inches thick and about six inches in height. Using special hardeners in the concrete, the material is hard enough to support the next layer by the time the machine circumnavigates the outside perimeter of a structure.

Khoshnevis believes 3D printing will not only enable affordable housing in third-world countries, but could also be used to construct off-world buildings by 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 used a portable 3D printer they created called a KamerMaker (RoomMaker) to build a canal house in Amsterdam.

The canal house was built of thermoplastics in pieces that measured about 6ft. x 6ft. by 12 ft. in size and then assembled on site like Lego pieces.

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

Based in Suzhou, China, Yingchuang has been developing the 3D printing construction technology over the past 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, after pulverizing materials from previously demolished buildings.

Yihe plans to build 100 recycling factories in China in order to collect building debris and recycling them into inexpensive building material for the 3D printers, according to the 3D printing design website, 3ders.

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

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

Lucas Mearian 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 @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

This story, "3D Printer Constructs 10 Buildings in One Day From Recycled Materials" was originally published by Computerworld .

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