Monday, April 28, 2014

Want to build a house; get a printed one!

Getting your own house built, is such a pain. I am sure that those of the readers, who have gone through this agony, would vouch for it. It all starts from a foolish moment, when under pressure of your family, you surrender and agree that we must get a new house or renovate the existing one. That starts the endless number of trips to architects, who come up with a design which is no where your dream house and costs 10 times your budget.

I could go on and on, but I am not writing a post today on intricacies of house building and just want to convey, what I said in the beginning. Almost all the activities that are associated with house building are essentially labour intensive, which means that everything, which includes cost, workmanship and finish, depends upon these men. If you are lucky and get skilled people your house gets built with excellent workmanship and finish and even at a lower cost than you thought. Unfortunately this happens very rarely and seldom. In most of the cases you are left facing shoddy workmanship, inconveniences because of compromises on design for rest of your life.

A new revolutionary technique has now come up for house building. It completely disposes off the traditional labour intensive method of building houses brick by brick. Instead of that the technique that is used is unbelievably true. The new technique involves a use of a 3 D printer to build a house. It is possible that some of the readers may not be familiar with 3 D printing, so let us first find out how 3 D printers work.

Readers must have seen printers associated with computers that employ ink jets. In the printing action of these printers, the ink jets place extremely small droplets of ink onto paper to create an image. These droplets or dots when they dry up are extremely small, even smaller than the diameter of a human hair (70 microns)! Secondly, the dots are positioned very precisely, with resolutions of up to 1440 x720 dots per inch (dpi). To the naked eye the dots are indistinguishable and we see the whole page or picture.

This simple 2D printing was extended to 3 D printing when a US company, 3D Systems, Inc. invented and patented stereolithography (also known as solid imaging) in mid-1980's. Those of you who are familiar with conventional manufacturing processes would know that it consists of processes by which an object is constructed by cutting (or "machining") raw material into a desired shape. 3 D printing works in exact opposite fashion. It is characterised as "additive" manufacturing in which means a solid, three-dimensional object is constructed by adding material in layers. To understand this process, let us consider a simple 3 D printer that is capable of creating plastic objects. Such printers incorporate a bioplastic (plastics derived from renewable biomass sources ) wire or filament mounted on a spool so that it can be easily drawn. When the printer is told to print something, it pulls the bioplastic filament through a tube and into an extruder, which heats it up and deposits it through a small hole and onto the build plate. Just like like an inkjet printer, the 3D printer too makes passes (much over the build plate, depositing layer on top of layer of material to create the finished product. This can take several hours or days depending on the size and complexity of the object. The average 3D-printed layer is approximately 100 microns or 0.1 millimeters. Throughout the process, the different layers are automatically fused to create a single three-dimensional object in a dots per inch (DPI) resolution.

A Chinese construction firm based in Shanghai’s Qingpu district; WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. has now produced world's first 3 D printer built house with a built area of 200 Sq.mtrs. They have achieved this after spending t 20 million Yuan (£1.9m) and 12 years to develop a monstrous 3D printer that is 6.6 metres tall, 10 metres wide and 150 metres long. The massive printer, instead of a filament of bioplastic used by small printers uses a mixture of construction and industrial waste to produce each house. Winsun uses architectural design software AutoCAD Architecture, to not only plan the building but also to calculate tracing paths that took into account plumbing, electrical lining, insulation materials and windows, that would be added once the main structure is built.

How did they do it? Winsun's CEO Ma Yihe says that Large 3D printers have been in existence now for several years and have been used to make plane parts and prototypes. He adds: "We purchased parts for the printer overseas, and assembled the machine in a factory in Suzhou. Such a new type of 3D-printed structure is environment-friendly and cost-effective."

Ma Yihe's office building, covering an area of 10,000 square metres, was also constructed with 3D-printed walls and took a month to build from an assembly line of four 3D printers. He adds: "Industrial waste from demolished buildings is damaging our environment, but with 3D-printing, we are able to recycle construction waste and turn it into new building materials." The inexpensive materials used during the printing process and the lack of labor, means each house can be printed for under $5,000, an impressive achievement for a relatively new construction process.

Winsun is now planning to build an entire villa with their printer and also plan to build 100 recycling facilities around China to help keep up with demand. China has announced that the first 3D printed house project will be located in Qingdao. Ma Yihe also says: "We can print buildings to any digital design our customers bring us. It's fast and cheap," and in future, he even hopes that his printers can be used to build skyscrapers. At the moment, however, Chinese construction regulations do not allow multi-storey 3D-printed houses.

I have a gut feeling that this is going to be an invention so revolutionary that we might see many such plants coming up all over world, producing factory made houses to your specifications in days. Just to give you an idea, Winsun has managed to print 10 full-sized (200 sq.mtrs) , detached single-storey houses just in a day. Isn't it unbelievable? Soon, no one is ever going to say again; Getting your own house built, is such a pain.

28th April 2014

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