Exclusive interview with Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis: Contour Crafting machines will be available starting at around $200,000 within a couple of years. Machine is now capable of printing concrete walls, insulation and even drywall. Widespread usage expected by 2020, and 3D printed high-rises by 2025. Technology is well ahead of China in terms of progress.
One of the most exciting areas within the 3D printing space that we have covered thus far is the fabrication of structures such as homes and offices. While there still is a ways to go in terms of developing this technology in order to print structures that pass the various safety inspection guidelines seen in many nations, progress is certainly being made, and quite fast.
Way back in 2010 I first heard of a process called Contour Crafting, a technology invented by a man named Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, the Director of the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT) at the University of Southern California (USC), as well as Professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering, Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering, Astronautics Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Civil & Environmental Engineering. Khoshnevis could be called the ‘Father of Large-Scale 3D Printing,’ as his work has gone on to form a foundation, quite literally, under all the other research and development currently underway within the space.
His approach relies on mobile large-scale, lightweight 3D printers which can be transported to a job site quite easily. Once transported the machine is assembled and can begin constructing homes or other large structures, layer-by-layer, reducing the waste, cost, and time it takes to construct a building.
Despite Khoshnevis’ early successes, he has remained relatively quiet over the last year or two in regards to the progress that is being made with his Contour Crafting technology. Here at 3DPrint.com we were able to get in touch with Khoshnevis and participate in an exclusive interview where we learned a great deal about where his technology is headed next.
For those of you who were wondering, yes, progress is in fact being made. Khoshnevis informed us that he has set up a company to commercialize the Contour Crafting technology and is currently approaching various applications. In fact, Khoshnevis and his company are making such rapid progress that he expects the very first printers to become available in the market within the next 1-2 years. Universities and research labs, however, may get access to these machines even sooner.
Once rolled out the machine will initially be put to use constructing smaller homes, and will be capable of printing exterior concrete walls, insulation, and even drywall.
“We have printed drywall material. We will print insulation. Wiring will be for [a] future stage,” explained Khoshnevis to 3DPrint.com. “We will be an equipment provider. We do not plan to get into the building construction business. We will sell or lease the machines.”
Although Khoshnevis’ company has yet to come up with a firm price for these machines, he tells us that “costs could range from $200k and up depending on size and capability.”
Speaking of size, these machines could get quite large. So large in fact that eventually skyscrapers will be able to be constructed via Khoshnevis’ Contour Crafting technique.
“I am hoping to have our machine in use around the world in the next five years. In ten years we should be building high-rises and other large structures,” Khoshnevis explained. “It is not impossible to see the technology being deployed on the moon in ten years.”
Ten years is not exactly a long time when dealing with space technology. Perhaps, Khoshnevis’ optimism comes due to the fact that he is currently working with NASA to further develop applications for space. In fact, much of the progress they have made as of late has been with the NASA project, according to Khoshnevis.
“We have managed to demonstrate the viability of variations of the technology for Lunar and Martian applications using solely in-situ materials,” Khoshnevis tells us.
As for competition, we asked him what his thoughts were on WinSun, and the recent stories coming from China where they ‘3D printed’ a mansion, as well as a 4 -story apartment building. Khoshnevis didn’t exactly buy into the hype. In fact, he tells us that they are actually infringing on his patents, despite the fact that they are ‘years behind’ where he is currently at.
“The Chinese company visited me early in 2013 and then invited me to visit their [headquarters] in August of 2013, which I did. They said they wanted to sell me their materials and picked my brain about the required consistency and formulation of the material. Shortly after I left, they connected a crude nozzle to a huge CNC machine that they had bought from Italy a few years before for over $2M and tried to copy my approach,” Khoshnevis explained. “The guy [president of WinSun] has made numerous false claims including stating that he can build ten buildings in one day, while in reality every one of those buildings has taken him a few days to build because he builds them in several pieces in the factory with that huge non-mobile machine.”
Khoshnevis went on to explain that WinSun then requires days for each piece to cure before having to move them to the actual construction site. Their method is actually more expensive, according to Khoshnevis, than current pre-fab modular construction techniques in use today. He didn’t seems a bit worried about what’s happening in China and has not yet opted to pursue legal actions, simply because he is currently much further ahead with this technology than they are. With that said, they will in fact look into their legal options in the future should this blatant infringement continue.
It will be incredibly interesting to watch as Khoshnevis’ Contour Crafting technology develops further and heads to market over the coming few years. What such technology will ultimately equate to within the construction industry has yet to be seen. Let’s hear your thoughts on this form of large-scale 3D printing in the Contour Crafting forum thread on 3DPB.com.