Will your next house be 3D-printed?

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The ability to create, to alter the world around you while manipulating your environment, is the essence of technology. Whereas mankind once had to create new objects through industrial intermediaries (or painstakingly by hand), we are entering an exciting new age where a desired object can be “individually mass produced,” printed by 3D-printer to exact specifications. This technology stands poised to alter our world, and the objects in it, forever. But what does that mean? What are the implications?

They start with the very roof over your head. Cnet‘s Michelle Starr is reporting that the world’s first 3D-printed apartment building has been erected in China. “In March of last year, company WinSun claimed to have printed 10 houses in 24 hours,” she writes, “using a proprietary 3D printer that uses a mixture of ground construction and industrial waste, such as glass and tailings, around a base of quick-drying cement mixed with a special hardening agent.” The term claimed is very important here, as the Chinese are eager to be seen as a technological powerhouse and have, historically, been somewhat loose with the details. The embarrassing incident a few years ago, in which China’s Central Television tried to pass off footage from the movie “Top Gun” as a recording of one of its air force’s training exercises, springs readily to mind. Still, if the claim is true, the 3D-printing of entire dwellings only paints that much more clearly the place of such printers in our future.

“Although the company hasn’t revealed how large it can print pieces,” Starr goes on, “based on photographs on its website, they are quite sizable. A CAD design is used as a template, and the computer uses this to control the extruder arm to lay down the material. … The walls are printed hollow, with a zig-zagging pattern inside to provide reinforcement. This also leaves space for insulation. This process saves between 30 and 60 percent of construction waste, and can decrease production times by between 50 and 70 percent, and labor costs by between 50 and 80 percent. … [The use of] recycled materials … [decreases] the need for quarried stone and other materials – resulting in a construction method that is both environmentally forward and cost effective.”

WinSun is, according to Starr, eying the printing of such massive structures as bridges and skyscrapers. They are not alone. The Guardian’s Alastair Parvin asserts that 3D-printing of buildings could solve the current “housing crisis” – that is, supplying attractive, affordable dwellings to more people. He calls for a dramatic reform of the “land market” to “make it dramatically easier for those without much capital to buy a plot of land and commission their own homes – either individually or as a group. … Our first step might be to develop open source tools and platforms that radically simplify the process of planning, designing and constructing customized, high-performance, sustainable, low-cost homes, and to put those tools into the hands of citizens, communities and businesses. That is the aim of the WikiHouse project, an open source construction system that allows online self-build models to be shared, improved, 3D-printed and self-assembled.”

Of course, one of the barriers to entry in the 3D-printing consumer market is the cost of a 3D-printer itself – which leads, at the risk of being recursive, to the idea of printing the printer that you’ll then use to print other things. “Over 90 weekly issues of 3D Create & Print at £6.99 a pop,” writes Stuart Dredge, [publisher Eaglemoss] is hoping to get a 3D printer into the homes of people who are keen to experiment with 3D-printing, but have balked at the upfront price of existing models.” The idea is to learn as you go, first assembling the printer, then using the knowledge you developed during its assembly to inform later creations.

There are those, however, who see the solution to putting 3D-printing in every home as more of a software issue than a hardware issue. “Desktop 3D-printing has long been a one- or two-color affair,” writes Signe Brewster. “Printers that work in two colors tend to have two nozzles, each of which draws plastic filament from a different spool. Not [Madison, Wisconsin-based startup] Spectrom. The [company] actually uses ink to dye the same strand of filament different colors along its length, opening up a full range of colors. … Its software designates the exact amount of filament that needs to be dyed for a red layer or a blue square within a layer. It’s much more complicated to build software that can account for the color of each drop of filament, but Spectrom believes it is doable.” The upshot? Cheaper full-color 3D-printing, which very soon could be accessible to the market at large.

More than plastic is affected. Just as Chinese manufacturers are claiming to erect buildings from recycled materials, the 3D-printing of metals – an industry in its infancy – is also ready to explode. “According to 3D-printing insights firm Wohlers Associates,” writes Steve Heller, “the metal 3D-printing industry experienced 75.8 percent annual growth in 2013, equating to 348 metal 3D-printers being sold worldwide. Despite its relatively small size, metal 3D-printing was a major focus at [the world’s largest 3D-printing conference, EuroMold], because the expectation is that it will grow to represent a larger percentage of the overall 3D-printing market as more manufacturing-related applications take hold. After all, General Electric has plans to metal-3D-print more than 45,000 mission-critical jet engine fuel nozzles per year by 2020 – a feat that is likely to make history as the largest-scale mission-critical 3D-printing application ever. Metal 3D-printing players seem to be banking on the likelihood that GE will fuel increased adoption across the industry.”

In the coming years, the pace of 3D-printing development will only increase, and likely at an exponential rate. It will be interesting to see just which different areas of our lives this technology touches. And while it will certainly improve our lives in many ways, it will also likely create unintended consequences – problems we cannot even imagine until they occur. As with any new technology, our only choice is to take these as they come, and deal with them as we can.

Media wishing to interview Phil Elmore, please contact media@wnd.com.

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World's First 3D-Printed Car, House & Village

It’s a brave new world, especially when you consider what’s happening in 3D printing these days. The good thing about 3D printing is that it can use recycled materials, leave virtually no waste and eliminate much of the labor associated with conventional assembly.

Meet the Strati

The two-seater battery-powered Strati is made out of only 49 parts, far less than conventional vehicles, which typically have over 5,000 components. A product of Local Motors, an Arizona-based manufacturer, the Strati took just 44 hours to build. Printed entirely of thermoplastic plastic and reinforced carbon fiber, the Strati’s body is rigid and tough. The body is strong where it needs to be and light where reduced weight improves performance. At some points, the thermoplastic platform is just 0.6-inches thick. In other areas–like the car’s central backbone–the material is several inches thick. Local Motors hopes to trim printing times down to 24 hours by the time it brings the car to production. The tires, seats, wheels, battery, wiring, suspension, electric motor and window shield were made using conventional manufacturing techniques. The Strati may not win any races or compete with a Porsche, but it will get you from point A to point B in style and comfort. While early models will only reach golf cart speeds (25 mph), street legal versions will zip right along at a respectable 50 miles per hour–still a bit slow for freeways and turnpikes, but great for neighborhood jaunts.

Printed Houses?

With few exceptions, the building industry is among the most polluting and inefficient industries. In contrast, 3-D-printing produces zero waste, requires minimal transportation costs, and you can easily melt down the structure for later recycling. Amsterdam’s Dus Architects is revolutionizing the construction industry with the world’s first fully 3-D-printed house. It will have 13 rooms made of interlocking plastic parts, reinforced by concrete for support and insulation.

Printed Villages?

Shanghai-based engineering company WinSun says they’ve 3-D-printed an entire village. Comprising ten 200-square-meter concrete buildings–each at a cost of just $4,800–WinSun plans to recycle construction and industrial waste into building materials that can be used by its printers.

Seems there’s almost no limit to what we can expect from 3D printing.

Photo courtesy Local Motors

Work begins on the world's first 3D-printed house | Architecture LabArchitecture Lab

Zero waste, lower transport costs and recyclable materials – is 3D-printing the future of housebuilding?

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Work begins on the world's first 3D-printed house

3D-printed house … The future of volume house-building, or a novelty technology for temporary pavilions? // Photo by Peter Dejong, AP

Treacle-black plastic oozes from a nozzle at the bottom of a small tower in Amsterdam, depositing layer upon layer of glistening black worms in an orderly grid. With a knot of pipes and wires rising up to a big hopper, it looks like a high-tech liquorice production line. But this could be the future of house-building, if Dus Architects have their way.On this small canal-side plot in the north of the city, dotted with twisting plastic columns and strange zig-zag building blocks, the architects have begun making what they say will be the world’s first 3D-printed house.

“The building industry is one of the most polluting and inefficient industries out there,” says Hedwig Heinsman of Dus. “With 3D-printing, there is zero waste, reduced transportation costs, and everything can be melted down and recycled. This could revolutionise how we make our cities.”

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