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The 3D Printing Revolution: New Tech can Build 10 Homes a Day


Dave Gordon - Friday, 17 April, 2015

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There’s an invention out there that’ll make your home computer’s printer look like the Wright Brothers’ airplane compared to a NASA space shuttle. And it’s not too far in the future that we’ll see it in everyday use, probably in homes and offices.

It’s called a 3D printer, and already hundreds of products are being created with it. Even though it’s still in infancy, everything from lamps, clothing, coffee cups and electric generators have already been created with the new technology.

Experts are saying that it’s only a matter of time before 3D printers are responsible for mass production of buildings.

But what is 3D printing, exactly?

It’s is a technologically advanced production technique that allows the user to translate a computerized figure into a physical product.

The process uses ultraviolet beams to fuse and carve layers of thermoplastic into shape. The software slices the design into thousands of horizontal layers, and the machine zaps the form, one atop of the other.

What’s unique about it isn’t just that it requires less labor and time, but that it minimizes waste – it only uses what it needs to use. The process consumes only the raw materials necessary for a finished product.

Additionally, one can theoretically change the end result to suit a revised design. Traditional building techniques might use, for example, concrete blocks that have a single shape. But a 3D printer can be reprogrammed to cut new customizable shapes.

From Coffee Cups to Generators

The trend of 3D printing has already begun, from small to large scale.

Carnegie Mellon and Disney have invented 3D-printed teddy bears. Eyeglasses have been laser-printed and put on display at the Aram Gallery in London.

Companies are already experimenting with printing décor, such as lamps and clocks. The Barcelona-based company Shapeways has fancy 3D-printed coffee cups that take a day each to print, using food-safe ceramics. Ecouterre’s perfectly-fitted printed clothing is cut into precise contours.

Designer Jiri Evenhuis and Janne Kyttanen of Freedom of Creation in Amsterdam are using 3D printers to create textiles. Japanese inventor Yagi Kazuhiko invented a 3D printed hydropower generator and uses water to turn a dynamo that creates a charge.

The London College of Fashion has already created seamless, skin-conforming fabric structures. The potential for custom clothing, tailored to the specific individual, is endless.

From printed parts for your broken dishwasher, or 3D-printed tools emailed to the space station, there seems to be no shortage of uses. The European Space Agency is even developing a printer that could be shipped to the moon for the purposes of creating a radiation-protecting dome out of surface materials.

“Printing” a House?

The biggest coup for 3D printers lately, however, has been cutting parts to fit together to make a place to live in.

Architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars of Universe Architecture in the Netherlands has teamed up with Italian inventor Enrico Dini to create a printer large enough to make a house.

Before assembly, each room is printed, consisting of interlocking parts. The upshot is that they can be detached easily, in the event the home needs to be moved somewhere else.

The materials being used are bioplastics, made of 80 percent vegetable oil, but wood and cement are on future project lists.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are already building their own homes from 3D printers. WinSun, a Chinese company, 3D-printed a five-story apartment building last March, as well as a 1,100-square meter villa, which is on display at Suzhou Industrial Park.

WinSun says it printed 10 homes in one day, using a proprietary 3D printer that mixes industrial waste, glass, and cement. The structures are then assembled on-site, with added steel reinforcements and insulation to meet building standards.

The printer size, though, sounds daunting, measuring in at 20 feet high, 33 feet wide and 130 feet long.

According to reports, the process has eliminated between a third and two-thirds of the construction waste produced through conventional construction, and production time has been decreased anywhere between 50 and 70 percent. Labor costs saved weighed in at 50 to 80 percent, and all told, the villa rang in at just over $160,000 cost.

The result? A home that is both environmentally safe, quick to build and cost effective.

In time, the company hopes to use its technology for much larger scale projects, such as bridges and even skyscrapers.

Ricky Twiggs Jr., founder of Unchained Thought Enterprises, a Louisiana-based consulting company that specializes in 3D printing, has used multiple 3D printers, from desktops to industrial machines.

He has been working with the technology for about four years.

“As far as building a home, that is quite intriguing, and the only people to really push it are the Chinese,” he says.

“There is a lot of upside to using this type of technology to lay the homes, and I think there is an even larger infrastructure side which could be used one day to repair and even replace our bridges, roads, and so on, more efficiently. The homes are an interesting avenue, but I think the real power is with the ability to update our failing infrastructures.”

Joseph Chiu, co-founder and chief builder at Pasadena-based ToyBuilder Labs, sells 3D printers and related accessories and supplies, and is an active member of the 3D printing-making community.

He saw the budding of the industry already 20 years ago, and he expects the new technology to rapidly grow year by year.

“Anything might be possible in the future, but right now you can only print with materials that can be processed, moldable, or cast items. But the best part of it all is the ability to build right there and then.”

Smaller versions of 3D printers cost as much as a laptop, he says, “empowering people to create an object on their own.”

Marius Kalytis has been working in the field of 3D design, graphics and animation since 1994. Previously he was the founder and CEO of a 3D visualization and animation company Visual Mind.

“3D printing has been around for over 30 years now, but was very expensive and accessible only to large enterprises due to expensive patented technology,” Kalytis notes.

“The patents expired and hence, the technology has been liberated in 2009, sparking the so-called 3D printing revolution.”

Kalytis founded CGTrader to challenge the current industry model and provide advice for 3D artists and designers.

He has been working with CGTrader since 2010 and aims to make it the best 3D model marketplace worldwide.

“There are numerous advantages to 3D printing, but the ones that really have the ‘wow’ effect on people are high customization, as it allows personalization of products according to individual needs, ability to produce very complex, intricate shapes that would not be possible to produce in any other way, and low cost manufacturing method for short runs, such as prototyping and producing products on demand.”

3D printing technology is close to becoming commercially viable in the building sector, he maintains.

“The hopes are that in a decade or so we’ll find the process of 3D printing a house, or even an entire neighborhood, become a norm,” says Kalytis.

“Due to an unprecedented opportunity to save significant amounts of money, we should soon see governments around the world embracing the technology, which could also become the cure for the lack of affordable housing.”

 

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