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Patented by American engineer Chuck Hull in 1986, 3D printing is poised to revolutionize everything from medicine to music. Recently, there have been significant advances in using 3D printing technology to build structures that could inhabited like conventional homes.
However, for that to become commonplace, 3D printing need to overcome a number on challenges. Scaling up existing technology is probably the biggest concern. To fabricate complete houses, a 3D printing system would need to be enormous or operate on massive gantry system.
Furthermore, some of the materials used in 3D printing are suspected of releasing toxins after they are used to create a part or structure. In one study conducted at the University of California at Riverside, zebra fish found dead in a 3D printed aquarium were found to have alarmingly high levels of toxins.
Despite these and other challenges, 3D printed homes have made significant strides forward in recent months.
Providing Shelter to People Living in Underdeveloped Areas
A 3D printed home was on display recently at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas as a model home from the construction startup ICON, which is dedicated to address homelessness in the world’s most vulnerable populations.
The 400-square-foot model home featured a curved porch and wood-paneled ceilings, as well as tall windows along its front side. The house was intimate, with a custom-made bedroom, bathroom and living room. ICON and its partner company New Story have announced plans to build homes like the one displayed in Austin across the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America.
“We want to build about 10 homes in El Salvador and an entire village of over 100 homes by early 2019,” ICON co-founder Evan Loomis recently told PBS. New Story has already built greater than 850 homes in Haiti, El Salvador and Bolivia, without the use of 3D printing technology.
ICON’s Vulcan 3-D printer was used to construct the model home quickly and with little manpower. However, using the printer in areas with little or no infrastructure, where the need for housing is greatest, may prove problematic. For instance, power is spotty and flooding is common in El Salvador.
The Vulcan requires either an electrical outlet or battery power. If the electrical grid starts to fail, the Vulacan does have a backup generator. ICON chose to use concrete to build its model home due to the fact it’s dependable. However, concrete does need time to firm up. Therefore, to speed up the construction, ICON modified Vulcan to use a novel concrete mixture that is fluid enough to pass quickly into 1-inch thick slabs but thick enough to rapidly congeal into a robust structure.
Getting the solidification step right is essential since the printing process occurs all at once, allowing the Vulcan to make homes less than a full day. It fabricates homes at around 600 to 800-square feet, large enough to house a three- or four-person family and able to protect against natural disasters.
The model home shown in Austin cost $10,000 to fabricate. However, the developers said the cost could be reduced to around $4,000 per abode.
A (3D Printed) House Becomes a Home
In France, 3D printed homes are set to make a transition from theoretical housing unit to actual home. A group form the University of Nantes has fabricated a 1000-square-foot, five-room house that will become home to tenets in June. The house was built in slightly more than 18 days using a printer known as BatiPrint3D.
The Y-shaped residence will be assigned to a local family that is eligible for social housing. The building is furnished with a number of high-tech features made to reduce energy costs, including sensors that keep track of air quality, humidity and temperature, in addition to equipment that will continually assess the home’s thermal performance.
Additional 3D-printed construction projects are currently going ahead in Nantes, including a housing estate and an admin building.