3D printer technology is still young, and for the most part too expensive to be practical, but in the next few decades you can expect to see the importance of this new technology increase drastically.
Behrokh Khoshnevis is one man leading the way with 3D printing. A professor of engineering and the director of the Manufacturing Engineering graduate program at USC, Khoshnevis is a strong advocate for this revolutionary new technology.
In 2006, Khoshnevis unveiled his concept for a massive 3D printer used to build entire homes in under a day, he calls the project Contour Crafting. At a recent TEDx Talk, he explained how the invention could revolutionize the world, and provide affordable housing for over a billion people in need of shelter across the world.
“At the dawn of the 21st century unfortunately this is the condition of shelter for nearly 1 billion people in our world,” said Khoshnevis, pointing to a slide of typicl slum, which he says has become a “breeding ground” for disease and crime.
In Khoshnevis’ opinion, the problem is obvious. The modern construction process is “slow, labor intensive and inefficient.” Further more, it’s antiquated when compared to the way we manufacture pretty much everything else today.
“The only thing we still build by hand are buildings,” he notes.
Using the recent development of 3D printing, Khoshnevis believes he can revolutionize the construction process. Through Contour Crafting, he’s “hoping to generate entire neighborhoods that are dignified at a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the time far more safely.”
Entire neighborhoods could be built, full of individual and unique buildings. All the operator would have to do is send a building design create on a computer to the Contour Crafting system, which would immediately get to work constructing.
3D printing works by building an object layer by layer, shooting the material through a nozzle. Contour Crafting works the same way on a much larger scale.
“The material is deposited through a nozzle and the building is built layer by layer,” explains Khoshnevis. “In the process a lot of things can be done, including automatic reinforcement, plumbing, and electricity.”
According to Khoshnevis a 2500 ft square house would take just 20 hours to complete. He also notes that these homes are about 3 times stronger than regular ones, thanks to a “high performance concrete mixed with composite fibers.”
Khoshnevis, who is also working with NASA to build structures on the moon using Contour Crafting, also addresses concerns he expects to hear from construction workers worried about their jobs. He notes that the application of 3D printing will create new jobs, which will be available to both men and women as well as the elderly, unlike the current construction business which is typically male dominated.
“There will always be better economies resulted from advancement and utilization of technologies,” he concludes. “That just makes sense.”