Already now 3-D printers can print not only plastic but also metal, glass, and even food. But now, MIT researchers in Boston have been able to take 3D printing technology one step further: they designed a system that could print the basic structure of an entire building.
Buildings built through this system (you can call it a Building Printer) could be ready to move into much quicker than buildings built using traditional methods, the researchers say. In addition, they will also be cheaper. Other advantages: A printed building can be customized according to construction site demands and the builder's preferences. Even the internal structure can undergo changes: new materials can be integrated into the structure, and the material density can be varied to provide optimal combinations of strength, insulation, and other important factors.
This printing system includes a vehicle that carries a heavy duty industrial robotic arm. At the end of this arm is a smaller robotic arm capable of small and precise work. This combination allows the system to print an entire basic structure without skipping any of the work stages, from pouring concrete to spraying insulating material. Unlike the common 3-D printers, which can only print objects not larger than the printer, this robotic printing system can print a structure of any size. For example, the researchers' experimental project was to print a basic dome structure with a 16 meter diameter and a 4 meter height which took only 14 hours of printing time.
“Our ultimate vision is to build something that can work completely on its own that we can send to Antarctica or Mars and it will simply build structures that last for years,” says Sam Keating of MIT, who led the system’s development for his doctoral thesis. “But in the meantime, we wanted to demonstrate that we can build something that is ready for use, and this system can be used tomorrow on a construction site.”