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MirceaKitsune

3D printed buildings

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3D printing is an awesome modern technology, currently most used to create small figures or miniature designs. Since it can only construct relatively simple structures, it's understandable why you can't 3D print cars or electronics or anything complex. Still there is one thing I can imagine 3D printing doing today, granted a large enough printer was to become available: Creating buildings.

 

This might be possible because first of all, buildings are made out of few materials... typically just steel plus cement (reinforced concrete), both of which can be molded in place. And second, they are very simple designs... just a few wall patterns repeated across floors, with holes for doors and windows. There is however the issue of size: The printer would need to be larger than the building itself, so the building can be constructed inside it... neither easy to create nor transport to every construction site. Although a workaround is to have a sanely sized printer head, and simply create a cube of mechanical pipes which transport it to the location where it's printing... the same way a paper printer moves the cartridges to the area where it's printing.

 

Either way I can imagine this working out; You'd simply add a 3D model of your building into the computer, put molten iron in one compartment, cement in another compartment. The "cartridge" then moves back - forth / up - down / left - right area by area. In each spot, it first leaks molten iron in the correct pattern to create the proper skeleton. Once that cools and solidifies, it fills the correct section around it with cement. If the printer does this intelligently, it could fully create even large modern buildings! Only the walls that is... people still have to manually add the doors and windows and electrical wires and what not.

 

As for the advantages, the first two are pretty obvious: No more construction workers laboring on the field, covered in cement and carrying heavy stuff around... just a few people feeding large amounts of metal and cement to a device. Buildings would also be designed directly on a computer, and the end result is fully predictable and exactly what you model... rather than making drawings and having human workers try to represent them.

 

So has this been attempted so far, and when could it become practical? How do you think it will change the world, and how affordable could houses become or how will they look like in the future?

Edited by MirceaKitsune

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Puzzling idea...

 

ESA has had similar thoughts, but for the Moon and Mars, and a nice demonstrator works (on Earth). Their goal is to use regolith to make houses. They melt this dust with a laser to make a compact stone. Delays are accepted.

 

It must be possible to place steel elements by a robot instead of melting them. Robots are capable enough for it.

 

Or make the building of steel only. Not uniformy thick: with beams, and ribs, and sandwich panels resembling a flat bone.

 

Have you thought further at how you contain the concrete once it's deposited and before it's hard? Stereolithography does it either by depositing a complete layer that is cured only when the solid shall stay, or by depositing the material in small amounts and curing it (or solidifying) immediately. Can this apply to concrete? Create a much faster concrete mixed at the last moment?

 

Or can you have an additional material, temporary or permanent, that holds a limited height of concrete until the concrete hardens as presently wood does? A polymer looks too expensive.

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