3D Printing has been around for a while. Until recently it's been a technology that's relegated to the design process, where designers are able to make plastic prototypes much more quickly. Neri Oxman at MIT's Media Lab has a vision for 3D printing much bigger than the current reality. She sees the advancements in 3D printing being used to construct buildings. I've seen concept designs for all kinds of robotic building techniques, but not using the 3D printing concepts. This kind of technology is a ways out, as right now most 3D printers are using plastic. Though some are starting to use metal, and Neri wants to get them working for concrete.
This technology will give builders and architects a level of control over the structural elements of their building in a way that has never before been possible. With these techniques, instead of relying on iron girders and preformed concrete columns, the structural elements can be poured into place as the structure grows. This will allow architects to build structures with forms that just are not physically possible using today's construction techniques.
You can see the air bubbles in the sample casts in that photograph. Those are intentional. They lighten the load on the concrete without sacrificing rigidity and strength. The best part, that's going to be done on-the-fly so that every square inch of the structure is as efficient as possible. The 3D printed structures could end up using 10% less concrete. Since concrete kilns are one of the more polluting industrial structures, I call that a win for pretty much everybody.
Check out Neri's website here.
[via Technology Review]