back to article Concrete-jet 'printers' to build houses, Moonbases in hours

Most readers will be aware of so-called "3D printing" techniques, in which solid objects can be constructed automatically from computer models. Researchers in California intend to scale the process up radically, using "contour crafting" concrete extrusion to erect buildings in a matter of hours. "Instead of plastic, Contour …

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Boffin

Edison did something similar

The sweaty yank tried pouring cement houses and furniture!

Didn't catch on though some are still around

http://flyingmoose.org/truthfic/edison.htm

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Alien

beautiful

21st century's space swiss army knife aka A.C.Clarke's TMA-1's prehistoric cousin.

;-)

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Stop

Looks like someone's beaten you to the playmobil mock up

Linked from their site:

http://www.contourcrafting.org/

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M
Happy

WOW

Ok...so now I can tick replicators off my future list. Next up, flying cars. HANG ON, CAN WE GET THIS THING TO BUILD FLYING CARS?!?

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Anonymous Coward

Self supporting floors

I can't see how the machine can make floors since they aren't self supporting. They'll need some form of support from underneath as the floor is poured. Also I doubt it could make a two storey house in 24 hours - the bottom layers of concrete won't be strong enough to support all the concrete above it until it's set properly.

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Cheaper houses

Anything that drives down construction costs (including something that causes the 'traditional' building industry to lower prices in response to this competition) sounds like a great idea.

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Toner

The printer will be available from Staples for £500 in time for the Christmas market (with Wifi connectivity and one of those little screens for viewing photos), however it'll only come with a 25%, non-refillable toner, and you'll need at least 2 full toners to print a house, (costing 100 x the price of the printer).

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24 hours to errect the house?

... but it'll still take 5 years to get the planning permission

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Stop

Support its own weight...?

"The equipment can happily create domes, vaults or any other shape that can ... support its own weight."

Look, we did arches in primary school, and while the finished article can certainly support its own weight, I seem to recall that until the keystone is set in place, the arch requires external support.

OK, so the Pantheon in Rome proves we can get a spheroid dome without a keystone, but even that required support during construction.

I'm not calling these guys liars, but I think they need to provide a more thorough explanation of how this makes the improbable possible....

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JCL
Paris Hilton

Green?

Their website says it's environmentally friendly, but I'm sure old Kevin McCleod said that concrete is one of the least environmentally friendly way's of building a house. Who's right?

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Unhappy

Bad news for brickies

The "credit-crunch" looks like putting large numbers of construction workers out of their jobs.

Now this thing comes along and destroys, once and for all, their hopes of being sent to the Moon to wolf-whistle passing aliens and take 14 (earth) day-long teabreaks.

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Anonymous Coward

@ Robert Govier

In that case I'll take 8 of the buggers, which as far as my calculations go means that I'll get my entire house with foundations for about 4000 squid.

Then dissasemble the house building printers and use their parts to build robots for the work commute.

Housing crisis AND rushtraffic sorted in one go :D

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Re: Support its own weight...?

They have one advantage the old builders didn't: adhesion.

Yes, an arch made of *blocks* or other loose members will need external structural support until it is complete, but the idea of this kind of project is to build it up little bit by little bit so that it builds up as at most two solid members which can potentially hold themselves up by the fact they're each one solid piece. A dome is even easier to achieve since the three-dimensional nature of the dome adds extra areas of adhesion and lateral support.

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If you want to put a large building on the moon, hire Guy Fawkes

Normal 3D printers lay down a layer of powder then melt the parts of the layer that will be part of the final object. The remaining powder is left in place as a support. Perhaps you could put down a layer of concrete power and only add water where the final structure should be. I would like to see the machine that picks up a house and shakes out all the concrete powder.

While we are at it, what type of glue will set in a vacuum? This would have been a handy glue when the space shuttle had heat shield tiles on the front which fell off. Being able to go outside and stick on a few replacement tiles would have been very handy - except liquid glues evaporate in a vacuum. A 3D printer working with moon dust would only work inside an atmosphere. You could ship moon dust to earth, and print your building, but then you would have to put it back on the moon.

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Ben
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@AC more through explanation

Have a look at the link http://www.contourcrafting.org/ Mr Glubb provided. It seems that the gantry is intended to pick up boards (lightweight, aluminimum probably) which look like they're to be layed on the freshly minted walls. From there it's pretty obvious that you just pour concrete over them to produce a floor. If that's done in layers, it become progressively self supporting so you really probably only need a tiny amount of supporting board. For curved shapes I imagine the idea is just to cut off any excess around the building exterior after it's dried?!?

Really is one of those "Doh! That's so obvious, why didn't I think of it" ideas, isn't it! :)

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@Support it's own weight..

You can build domes the Inuit way - a contracting spiral of material that sets as it is created.

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reinforcement needed!

If you do this is seismic zones (California) or hurricane zones (Florida), you'll need steel rebars for reinforcement or these structures WILL fall down come the first quake/storm.

Concrete by itself is quite strong in compression, but has no strength in tension, and doesn't bend at all. Just laying rebars between the printed layers won't do it - they need to run vertically as well, AND they get tied together.

Interesting concept, though - but there are now materials and structures that are far more cost-effective than concrete. This system replaces a few thousand dollars worth of re-usable forms with a couple of million dollar's worth of high tech - which I note needs to have accurately placed track guides so when it moves back and forth the building is level . . .

This whole thing smacks of using a howitzer to kill a mosquito.

Moon structures can be built out of inflatable balloons sprayed with plastic foam, then concrete - and you won't need to move this huge, heavy contraption to the moon at all.

Day late and a dollar short, sorry, guys.

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Heart

Fucking marvellous

This is the technology that is going to build all those curvy shiny cities of the future with swishy shapes and tubes all over the place and people in silver suits and FLYING CARS!

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Alien

@Ben

No, that's not it. Specifically, the grabbing bit that adds in prefabricated reinforcement is entirely optional.

I eventually found the answer hidden in a PDF and it really is extremely clever -- and a true "why didn't I think of this!" moment.

Rather than build the vault by steadily increasing the height of the walls and ceiling around it, they build it up by a series of inclined arches. Some of the weight of the arch can then be transferred downwards into the previous iteration, but this new arch meanwhile prevents its own apex collapsing.

There's a diagram of the technique with the printer, and pictures of people using the technique in manually building adobe housing.

http://www.isi.edu/craft/CC/Welcome_files/resources/AIC2004-Paper.pdf

A bit weird -- alien even -- but very very clever.

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Unhappy

House prices...

So if you can build a nice new house for a fifth of the regular price how the hell am I supposed to sell my crap-hole for at least the mortgage value!

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Joke

Man, this refill cartridge weighs a ton

Well, yes. But the ones that came with the printer, only weighed half a ton.

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re:toner

FFS Robert, please not in time for Christmas. It's bad enough for some parents to have Lego structures everywhere but let's try and keep quiet about the Sims add-on.

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TJ
Go

..Missing the point?

I think for marketing purposes they bill it as complete automation, however the reality would simply be there would still be men on site, either following behind the "printer" or working ahead of it or both covering all the bases. This is not an infomercial for some "set it and forget it" commercial device. And while building codes will play a big roll in its development, the fact Caterpillar is on board proves there is some economic viability. Setting this thing up would not be terribly difficult. The track would come on some railroad like prefabbed Track and just need to be level and straight, Something easily achievable. The Moon base and other uses are completely irrelevant to this stage of design anyway. We should encourage such engineering, not knock it down.

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Rebar?

It needs to lay down rebar (Yeah, sure... Like that's ever gonna happen... :-)

Otherwise its a very temporary solution (that's when the concrete doesn't sag and crack from its own weight.)

Concrete by itself is not a very good building material.

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RW
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Re: Support its own weight...

There's a technique for building arches, domes, etc that requires no centering. Two famous examples of this are the enormous adobe banqueting hall (ruins thereof) at Ctesiphon, a relic of the Sassanian empire iirc, and a huge immigrant reception hall on Ellis Island in New York with quite shallowly arched ceilings.

Scientific American had an article on this 10 or 20 years ago that's worth looking up if you adore novel construction techniques. I can't say just *how* this technique could be used the the HP HouseJet, but it demonstrates that "centering is necessary" is a falsehood.

The dome of the Duomo in Florence, erected under the supervision of Brunelleschi, exemplifies another method of erecting domes without centering.

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still slow

> erect a 2,000-square-foot, two storey house in 24 hours

So still slower than Spanish builders throwing up hotels, then?

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ian
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Why send portland cement + water + gravel + sand to moon?

Current construction methods with styrofoam forms (heavy industrial stuff, not insulated cup variety), and foamed concrete would likely work in a vacuum, and be much lighter than the stuff delivered by lads with wheelbarrows.

Further, the Moon's lower gravity would allow for weaker materials to be self-supporting. However, would a shirt-sleeve environment (5psi atmosphere?) inside blow out the walls?

Still, a nice little lunar summer place would cost billions.

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I''' wait for the laser printer version

Can't be doing with blocked nozzles, wasting concrete doing head cleans, doing nozzle checks and aligning heads to find that the concrete cartridge needs replacing again.

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Tom
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Joke

Two questions

1) Where do you pour the tea?

2) Is there a Polish version coming out soon that works twice as fast, and doesn't disappear on other jobs?

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There are numerous ways to construct arches

1. make a small supporting pillar system that is easily dislodged when the full arch is up.

2. just make a solid wall, and use a diamond tipped teeth chainsaw to make the doorways and windows.

Also by using a lot of lime in the concrete, it can set in 10 minutes. (strong enough to walk on).

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Boffin

Same, but in sugar...

No-one's mentioned candyfab.org?

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Confused...

... all those comments, and only once has 'rebar' been mentioned. Structural concrete does get a bit more durable if you add steel reinforcing bars to it. Well, the structure becomes more durable, while the concrete becomes less durable. Although somebody did mention the Pantheon, proof that you can make something really big without rebar and yet it will not fall down. [Although those pesky Romans did cheat as I recall by using extra-lightweight pumice as the aggregate in the top bits.]

But ... somebody suggested printing concrete Levvies? What's going on there? Does somebody mean to prefab Hebrew priests to officiate in some lunar Pantheon, or are they going to ship in the priests and use the inkjet thing to make them denim trousers out of concrete on-site?

Personally, I think some of the commercial possibilities of terrestrial concrete inkjet printing have been overlooked -- cheaper than HP, with stronger more vibrant monochrome etc etc etc.

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Regarding Edison

I wonder who that thieving bugger stole the idea from, as almost all his major credits turned out to belong to other people

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Music

So long as it comes with a sound-system that plays Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse," while it works, I'm totally sold.

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Silver badge

Rebar may not be necessary

There is a method using high tensile metal needles in the mix that produces a strong concrete with a degree of flex in it, similar concept to fibre glass and yes concrete does flex just not very far. In that respect it is a little like glass, when it is pushed past its max for flex it falls apart.

This machine looks a s though it is an architect's dream, to get rid of the nasty messy builders. Just as most builders would like to get rid of the airy fairy soapy architects.

If this invention takes off it will cause economic collapse as the construction industry is probably the biggest single employer. Although there may be a lot of work in bigger cement factories.

Concrete is very un-green, it takes a lot of heat ( big carbon footprint ) to make cement out of chalky rocks. Then roughly for every kilo of cement you need five kilos of sand and aggregate plus lots of water and a lot of energy to mix it and to move all the ingredients around. Oh and the rock and the sand has to come from somewhere, like scenery!

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I'm thinking this technology...

...may find itself legislated against for terrestrial use. Many low-income and/or low-skilled people would be put out of work by this machine.

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Heart

Getting closer....

Yep, you need reinforcing steel for concrete to work. Concrete only works in compression, so some very fancy domes are possible - think La Sagrada in Barcelona, or the Pantheon in Rome - both are self-supporting concrete without tensile fibers (ie, steel reinforcing) although I think the Romans used straw & flax as a tensile elements in mortar. So you could do decent structures without reo. As for earthquake proof - the structure would be monocoque and probably less susceptable to fracture.

I can think of a brilliant way to get steel reinforcing into a rapid-fab process like this though - knitting!

Literally knitting - a net of needles could knit steel fibre (or glass / carbon / boron / kevlar / hemp / bone / monofilament diamond nanotubes) straight into the matrix as it is laid. It would be *way* stronger than standard straight reo, in the same way a cable is stronger than seperate fibres - friction, compression and shear forces are introduced through the weave, so the fibre is working more efficently.

I think it's bloody brilliant, and I can't wait.

Back to telling moronic formworkers how to set out parabolic-curved formwork!

A Real Architect

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Yes but where are the drivers?

No Vista drivers yet.

This is really nothing more than a version of continuous profile concreting, of the sort used to make curbs etc, just done in 3d so as to build higher structures.

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@JCL

http://www.tececo.com/simple.eco-cement.php

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Anonymous Coward

Concrete boats?

Doesn't sound like a clever idea at all to me.

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I fear a few lumps in this mixture

And pray, what kind of nozzle spits out a widely variable size of "drops"? Or is the a nozzle for each particle size (which makes "mixing" the concrete interesting.

Concert is an aggregate, not a uniform emulsion like ink, and, how do they print the reinforcing? This I must see!

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Concrete Boats - been there, done that..

Ferrocement boats built using a concrete skin on steel mesh have been in use for over a hundred years - and last for a long, long time.

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RoTM!

Obviously the *real* purpose of these machines is to subdue large groups of unruly fleshies by covering them with quicksetting concrete.

I, for one, welcome our house-extruding overlords.

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@AC - Concrete Boats

There's a long history of concrete boats and ships going back to a French patent in 1855. They are normallyt called ferro-cement boats, and as the name implies, are actually built of cement on a ferrous (steel) mesh. There's also talk of submarines being deigned in the material (that I suspect is not such a good idea).

Before the days of fibreglass it was a way of achieving a moulded shape. Enthusiasts still build the things of various types - sailing yachts, house boats; all sorts. The weight is not so much of an issue - many boats require ballasting anyway; it's just a matter of keeping the base a bit thicker.

Having said all that, I'm not sure building a boat of concrete without reinforcing is such a good idea.

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Dan
Happy

CnC

Very clever, but it sounds like either there will still be quite a bit of labour involved, or the creators have been played too much Command and Conquer "Building Complete! Building Complete!"

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Reinforcement - Does no-one ever read before commenting???

Look at the PDF AC linked to above. A proposed method for "Robotic modular imbedding of steel mesh reinforcement into each layer" is described and illustrated at the bottom of page 4, and wire reinforcement at the top of page 6.

They may not ever get their uber-robo-brickie to work reliably, but the bulgy-bonced boffins are way ahead of you amateurs.

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Boffin

@Support its own weight...?

When was the last time you saw an igloo formwork?

An igloo is a self supportting spiral dome. Arches are also possible with adequate cantilever support (ie tied into a wall) but this is what is meant by 'self supportting' as opposed to a regular dome/arch.

Additionally there is no reason why formwork cannot be used with this technique, it just needs manpower to place and remove, the formwork would be horizontal surfaces only as no side support is needed, so is far less cumbersome than that in use today.

for those struggleing with the concept, think clay not concrete there is no pooring, this is an extruded paste like clay (or adobe!) which is laid in stripes, as mixing can be performed by the machine on demand it can be very quick setting, so very rapid construction can be used. (hardening/curing will take longer)

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@AC RE: concrete boats

why but steel boats sounds like a clever idea.

the material a boat is made out off has little baring on its ability to float. That is dependant on its ability to displace a larger mass of water than its mass which a design issue. as long as that is correct for the material used you can build a boat out of pretty much anything that can be made water tight

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