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D-Shape 3D printer can print full-sized houses


February 24, 2012

Enrico Dini of Monolite UK with Radiolaria - the biggest structure ever built by the D-Sha...

Enrico Dini of Monolite UK with Radiolaria - the biggest structure ever built by the D-Shape 3D printer

Image Gallery (8 images)

The growing popularity of 3D printers, such as the Printbot or MakerBot's Thing-o-Matic, testify to the fact that additive manufacturing is slowly entering the mainstream. The devices are now small enough to fit on a desk and they can make all sorts of stuff, such as toys, chess figures, or spare door knobs. But what if you want to make something slightly bigger - say, a house? Then you need to turn to Enrico Dini, the founder of Monolite UK and the inventor of the D-Shape "robotic building system."

The D-Shape is potentially capable of printing a two story building - complete with stairs, partition walls, columns, domes, and piping cavities - using only ordinary sand and an inorganic binder. The resulting material is said to be indistinguishable from marble, and exhibits the same physical properties, with durability highly superior to that of masonry and reinforced concrete.

The building process is very close to what we'd expect of a huge 3D printer. A nozzle moves along a pre-programmed path, extruding a liquid adhesive compound on a bed of sand with a solid catalyst mixed in. The binding agent reacts with the catalyst, and the solidifying process begins. Meanwhile, the remaining sand serves to support the structure. Then, another layer of sand is added and the whole process is repeated. Since it's computer assisted, no specialist knowledge is required to use the printer. All that's needed is a CAD design file.

The desired structure is erected in a single work session, starting from the bottom up. The solidification process takes 24 hours to complete, but subsequent layers, 5-10 mm in thickness, may be added without delay. The annual output of the current model of D-Shape is estimated at 2,500 square meters (26,910 sq ft), which is equal to 12 two-story buildings. Reportedly, the building process takes a quarter of the time required to build an equivalent structure with traditional means.

D-Shape 3D printer in action

The time gap widens in the case of structures with custom shapes. Traditionally, Portland cement is used to achieve concave or convex forms. The process is extremely time-consuming, as it often involves manual casting, intricate scaffolding, and other steps. D-Shape, by contrast, can handle such designs just as quickly as it handles regular walls.

This all sounds very promising. However, since the inventors themselves haven't yet managed to print a proper house using their machine, we expect it may take some time for this technology to prove itself. Still, it seems like it already has a lot to offer, especially to those who value creativity over practicality.

Once it's ready, be sure to watch the documentary by Marc Webb and Jack Wake Walker titled The Man Who Prints Houses. As you can see on the teaser below, It puts Dini's efforts to revolutionize the construction industry into a broader perspective.

Source: Monolite UK via The Verge

About the Author
Jan Belezina Formerly in charge of Engadget Poland, Jan Belezina's long time fascination with the advance of new technology has led him to become Gizmag's eyes and ears in Eastern Europe.   All articles by Jan Belezina

Can it print insulation? If so maybe the printer could build a passive house!

Carlos Grados
24th February, 2012 @ 07:37 pm PST

There would seem to be absolutely huge potential in this system.

The key question surely must be: is it cost effective in producing either small structures (e.g. a sandstone sculpture) or indeed for complete buildings? I refer to both the cost of the finished 'product' and also the capital cost of the D-shape equipment.

The technology should allow high precision creations - with finer tolerances than are normally achieved by conventional methods.

Gizmag, do please keep us informed of progress on this.

24th February, 2012 @ 11:19 pm PST

The problem is, to build a two story building, it would require a mound of sand of equal size to build it. The sand that serves as the support structure must fill all of the empty space in the building. They would have to ship in 10-100 times the weight in raw materials just to make it four times as fast.

25th February, 2012 @ 11:20 am PST

If you want a round one story house with no windows, doors, electrical or plumbing made of non-reinforce concrete walls then your all set, look no further. But I imagine not to many people will want one. Instead I see this printer being used for not much more than giant concrete sculptures which the maker of the printer making some money for a few years before others people do the same thing for relatively little investment and technology. Interesting concept but hardly deserving of the title.

Matt Fletcher
26th February, 2012 @ 06:33 am PST

Sand is about the cheapest building material there is, and it's abundant just about everywhere, so the raw materials wouldn't have to be transported very far; and since the material used to support the finished part can be reused, this is ultimately a very cost-effective method, with very little if any wasted material. The downside is, I can see this putting stone/brick/concrete masons out of work, replaced with a handful of specialists to run the machinery and some unskilled laborers hired to shovel out the unused sand.

William H Lanteigne
26th February, 2012 @ 09:25 am PST

n3r0, how did you come up with that idea? I think you might be a tad off with that one.

Denis Klanac
26th February, 2012 @ 02:54 pm PST

"Insulation" is a fancy word for "trapped air". It would seem feasible to "print" the insulated parts in a structure similar to bones - solid outer parts, and a honeycomb internal lattice.

Plumbing would seem similarily simple - just "print" the voids through which the fluids can flow (or cables can be pulled even).

There's an interesting "concrete house printer" that doesn't use "filler" material - the print-head is also a crane, so while it's printing the walls in-situ, it's also printing beams on a spare patch of ground. When it gets to the roof (or floor of next level), the beams are by then dry, and the crane lifts them from the ground and places them on the walls. Same idea for the top sections of windows and doors etc.

Continuous pour concrete is a pretty well known technique - I'm very surprised that we still don't see complete "things" built by robots using this technique yet. Actually - "amazed" is probably closer to my sentiment. Consider any multi-story project - the labor costs alone to build the thing would seem "back of the envelope" to be many times greater than the entire invenstment needed to design, buy, and build a robot to do it all autoamtically.

That said - looking at the past - every time anyone has whined about computers replacing human jobs, the reverse has been true - more people end up working on the computer side of things, than ever got displaced elsewhere... The highest proportion of all the richest companies and people in the world are computer ones - that's a lot of jobs!!

26th February, 2012 @ 05:51 pm PST

@christopher - any chance of a link to that house printer? sounds interesting...

27th February, 2012 @ 07:01 am PST

Its about time the home building industry caught up with technology. With the price of housing climbing well out of practical reach of everyone but billionaire CEOs we need this. The price of an energy efficient (zero carbon zero energy) home should not exceed the annual salary of the average worker, same with an electric vehicle, and both should last almost forever. Efficiency will allow us to have 100 billion humans on planet earth, and nothing more.

Facebook User
27th February, 2012 @ 10:58 am PST

Open your minds people. He doesn't have to print with sand. He can print with anything ... like little foam balls bound with cement, which foam balls are manufactured on the spot. This means he can make huge strong structures with a couple trucks full of relatively cheap chemicals.

David Austin
27th February, 2012 @ 01:58 pm PST

The printer will probably be only $90, but they'll charge q huge amount for the authorized sand cartridge

Jordan Engel
27th February, 2012 @ 08:08 pm PST

Reminds me of that "The Jetsons" episode where Cogswell Cogs put up a building next to Spacely Sprockets in a few minutes and Mr. Spacely says "I remember when it took a whole week to put up a building."

Gregg Eshelman
27th February, 2012 @ 11:02 pm PST

I would think that simple molds could be used to do the same thing, so long as the structural integrity could be maintained. Semi skilled workers would be able to do standard buildings according to plans. The molds would be reusable.

Ron Wagner
8th March, 2012 @ 11:01 am PST

Glad to see this article has everyone thinking.

Every journey starts with the first step, and that's what this is.

Sometimes you have to do it wrong to know how to do it right.

I'd buy shares in this company, especially if it's patented.

7th January, 2013 @ 08:29 pm PST

Dr. Berokh Khoshnevis has developed a similar concept at USC called "Contour Crafting". The difference is that his concept is based on concrete as the material, includes provisions for metal reinforcement in the concrete, as well as provisions for electrical and plumbing, how to do windows and doors, and roofs. The US Army Corps of Engineers has shown interest and NASA is looking at the Contour Crafting as am ethd for autonomous construction of habitats.

Michael Fiske
26th August, 2013 @ 01:32 pm PDT

If such a system could be made to work in low gravity and vacuum. Building on the moon with robots using moon dust as the primary building material would make building a permanent moon base a much cheaper proposition.

Paul Adams
23rd October, 2013 @ 07:53 am PDT
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