Contour Crafting Will Develop Concrete 3D Printer for Disaster Relief, Thanks to DoD Contract

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One of the very first methods of large-scale 3D printing that the world witnessed was the technology of Contour Crafting Corporation, which uses large but lightweight robotic 3D printers to quickly put down layers of building material in order to rapidly create entire buildings onsite in just days.

Last week, we learned that the US Department of Defense (DoD) had recently awarded California-based Contour Crafting a $3 million research and development contract, effective July 25th, 2018, in the large-scale, construction 3D printing domain. Contour Crafting will use this Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) to build a concrete 3D printer for the purposes of Rapid Response Construction – quickly constructing buildings for disaster relief, an application that often makes use of 3D printing.

According to the company’s website, “The outcome of this funded R&D program is expected to be a technology which, among other applications, will effectively respond to disaster relief situations with expedient, safe and sustainable structures and buildings.”

The RIF was awarded to Contour Crafting based on its proposal, titled “Autonomous Construction Equipment and Sensing (ACES).” I assume this ACES is not to be mistaken for the US Army’s other ACES program, but as the location on the Federal Business Opportunities page is listed as CERL in Champaign, Illinois, one can’t be too sure.

Regardless, this contract award to Contour Crafting confirms that the DoD is interested in seeking outside help for its construction 3D printing goals, as opposed to just keeping things in-house…never a bad idea.

Speaking of construction 3D printing goals, Contour Crafting is on a mission to commercialize disruptive construction technologies, and this funding award from the DoD should definitely help the company on its way to achieving it.

In 2015, Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, who developed the company’s Contour Crafting technology at the University of Southern California and is its CEO and founder, predicted during an interview with 3DPrint.com that 3D printed homes would be widespread within five years. While the 3D printed housing sector is certainly hard at work, we are definitely not there yet. However, 3D printed construction technology does seem to be the perfect answer for smaller structures, like an army barracks and emergency housing, so it’s smart to focus on these while continuing to build up the technology until it’s ready.

While I did not learn too much more about the company’s newly awarded DoD contract, perhaps due to a non-disclosure agreement or something similar, Dr. Khoshnevis was kind enough to answer some questions for me in regards to Contour Crafting’s construction 3D printing technology, as well as the company’s plans for the future.

How does Contour Crafting’s technology compare to other construction 3D printing?

Contour Crafting Transformational Impact

“As the attached [sic] chart (published by an independent Dutch firm) shows, Contour Crafting is the pioneering technology in large scale 3D printing. Over the last 23 years we have developed a large set of related technologies in practically all related subfields including large-scale robotics, material delivery systems, and materials with numerous patented inventions in each subfield. We have conducted research in various application domains including building construction, infrastructure construction and planetary construction. In most fields of our activities no other 3D printing group or company is active so I have no basis for comparison in those fields.”

What do you think the future of 3D printing buildings will be like?

“I think construction by 3D printing will gradually gain popularity but we should not expect that this approach will become the dominant way of building construction. Frist, 3D printing can at best only build the building shell. There is much more to a building than just the shell, which encompasses about 1/3 of the building cost. Second, many buildings will continue to be built with stick frame, steel, etc. and 3D printing is not likely to make any of these alternative approaches obsolete.”

What kind of structures are ideal for 3D printing?

Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis

“Given that so far the economic attractiveness of construction by 3D printing is still unproven, the only ideal application remains to be construction of buildings that have exotic features, primarily curved walls, which would be potentially more expensive to build by manual methods. In case of concrete printing, even curvatures are limited to 2.5D features, thus giving an upper hand to manual methods over 3d printing approach.”

What are the next steps for your company?

“CC Corp is currently pursuing both construction and non-construction application domains. The latter has the main advantage of not being subject to regulatory restrictions and the complex and potentially costly process of obtaining approval of regulatory authorities for conformance to building codes, which incidentally is different for different localities because of varying factors such as extent of seismic activities and climatic conditions.

“In the field of construction we are advancing more cautiously as we are exploring potential implementation problems and solutions. We are doing many experimentations in-house and are preparing for some field tests as well.

“We have maintained our interest in the field of planetary construction as our prior accomplishments in the field, which include two NASA international competition Grand Prizes, have been noteworthy. We are developing new technologies for in-situ material usage for construction of a variety of useful infrastructure elements such as landing pads, blast protection walls, shade walls, radiation shielding walls, hangars, and roads.”

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