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China Build Technology

Chinese Company '3D-Prints' 10 Buildings In One Day 118

Lucas123 writes: A company in China has used additive manufacturing to print 10 single-room buildings out of recycled construction materials in under a day as offices for a Shanghai industrial park. The cost: about $5,000 each. The company, Suzhou-based Yingchuang New Materials, used four massive 3D printers supplied by the WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. Each printer is 20 feet tall, 33 feet wide and 132 feet long. Like their desktop counterparts, the construction-grade 3D printers use fused deposition modeling (FDM), where instead of thermoplastics layer after layer of cement is deposited atop one another. The cement contains hardeners that make each layer firm enough for the next. Yingchuang's technique builds structures off site in a factory one wall at a time. The structures are then assembled onsite. The technique is unlike U.S.-based Contour Crafting, a company whose 3D printing technology to form the entire outer structure of buildings at once, The Yingchuang factory and research center, a 33,000 square foot building, was also constructed using the 3D printing manufacturing technique. It only took one month to construct.
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Chinese Company '3D-Prints' 10 Buildings In One Day

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  • Is it safe? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:07PM (#47372055)

    Do we know how safe it is to work or live in a building made of these chemicals?

    I remember when portables started being added to schools, it was determined all the various chemicals in them were making kids and teachers sick.

    They need to determine the potential effects on health first.

    • by NoKaOi ( 1415755 )

      The possibility of it collapsing is probably more of a concern than "chemicals." (FYI water is a chemical, and concrete generally contains water, so I guess they're screwed).

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Interpolating from the rate that their other quickly constructed buildings fall down, these probably started to crumble shortly after this headline published.

        • Extrapolate.

          We are going to build quality housing with this technology someday.

          I hope the lab-grown replacement organs manufactured from my own stem cells are perfected by the time I need them... I would love to see this future.

          • by mikael ( 484 )

            Back in the 1960's, we used to build high-rise buildings using pre-fabricated blocks. Bits of geometry like stairwells, floors, blank walls and window frames. The only problem was that these structures were completely air-tight with no ventilation or air conditioning. Combine that with people cooking, drying off laundry in their living room and airing closets, there wasn't anywhere for the moisture to go. So it just condensed into the walls creating mold and other health problems.

      • Isn't concrete a pretty durable material []?
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Only for compression. Concrete is pretty weak when it comes to tensile strength.

          Does this 3D printer also print rebars?

          • Well, single-story or two-story buildings shouldn't have problems with that. Or is brick construction somehow more immune to this problem without the use of structural steel?
            • by tibit ( 1762298 )

              You're forgetting buckling, and weak, fresh cement is famous for buckling. Heck, poorly supported brick walls will buckle and collapse during construction because the mortar isn't strong enough -- all the while the same will will stand just fine once the mortar has cured.

              • Well, I'm not a civil engineer. ;) Would this be a problem if the building was "grown" sufficiently slowly? The way I see it, if we're talking about reducing costs (including human labor) and increasing flexibility, perhaps that wouldn't be a problem. Simply let the (now smaller and cheaper, because slower) machine do the job and continue on other buildings in the same time frame.
                • Re: Is it safe? (Score:5, Informative)

                  by tibit ( 1762298 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @07:33PM (#47372873)

                  Well, if they can solve the problem of rebar, then buckling won't be an issue anymore, since rebar has proper strength from the get-go. I don't really see a slower machine being much better than a fast one. The overall size of the machine depends on what you fabricate, not how fast you go about it (within reasonable limits of concrete pouring).

                  If I were to make a product out of it, I'd have a 5 axis machine with switchable heads. One head with an extra axis or two that can put out, restrain, cut and spot-weld rebar. Another head that can print concrete. With a 5 axis machine you can trivially print concrete on the surface of rebar going in any orientation. Heck, if they use a mix with fast initial cure, they can do skin/infill just like plastic 3D printers do, except that the infill uses a less viscous mix that self-levels. This could dramatically speed it up, and you wouldn't need to print around every piece of rebar but only some trickier ones.

                  This could be very much a breakthrough technology, but it would need a bit of capital investment as those machines wouldn't be cheap. For very large constructions, instead of X-Y-Z linear actuators you would need a delta-style arm []. Even a big one could be assembled on site and print an entire highway overpass in a week or two, starting with nothing but a hole in the ground.

                  • Actually, what I had in mind was smaller buildings that don't need rebar, and tackling the problem of concrete hardening. A rebar robot would be awesome but probably unnecessarily expensive in constructions that don't need it, even if it would be useful for those that do.
                    • by tibit ( 1762298 )

                      Once you have a positioning system (a manipulator) good enough for 3D printing concrete, then adding rebar functionality is peanuts in comparison. Heck, not doing so would be silly, since you should try to leverage the heck out of the expensive manipulator. I personally don't see much housing uses for non-reinforced concrete. As the ground settles, it will crack. Rebar is a relatively cheap fix for that.

                    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

                      Actually, what I had in mind was smaller buildings that don't need rebar,

                      I wouldn't be comfortable even making a concrete driveway without reinforcing.

                      I'd be willing to bet with these things there's bits of rebar standing up and linking the different layers.

                      and tackling the problem of concrete hardening

                      Pretty well understood chemically for the last century with a lot of variations for different conditions.

                      This thing sounds like a more flexible version of the sort of thing used to make concrete beams offsi

                    • Or.

                      You could allow rebar to be installed in the traditional way as a skeleton before the pour.

                      Bonus round: A few human jobs for those dinosaurs who can't sit around and do nothing.

                  • by aXis100 ( 690904 )

                    There is a simpler option, which is to replace the rebar with another tensile option, such as fibreglass or plastic.

                    Rather than a welder, it would be much simpler to have a spool of fibreglass/plastic ribbon which is then laid down at intervals in the 3D print.

                    Even simpler still is to add chopped fibres to the concrete mix, which make the concrete more durable and stops the propagation of cracks. Considering how long we've managed with brick walls that have practically zero tensile strength , a fibre reinf

                    • by tibit ( 1762298 )

                      Chopped fibres aren't the same as long fibres. But I agree that having fibreglass ribbons embedded in the concrete would be a great alternative, as long as long as test coupons would pass relevant tests.

        • Based on the number of concrete buildings that collapse in China due to earthquakes, I suspect it's not as durable as you think.
        • It can be. It can also crumble in years to decades. It can crack within months to years. In worst case, it can fail completely even before construction is complete.

          It all depends on... well, a multitude of factors.

    • You know this is in China, right? They don't worry too much about stuff like that.
    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      its china, they dont give a shit

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Slashdot has gone to a sad place. You are honestly asking if it's safe to work and live in a building made of cement? Is that a real question that is actually being posted on a website who's tagline is supposed to be "news for nerds, stuff that matters"? []
      Look at all those poor poor people living in cement buildings. I hope they don't get the cancer. But I kind of hope you DO.

  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:12PM (#47372091) Homepage

    Those structures are bigger and sturdier than a tiny house [] with the added advantage of being made from recycled building materials.

    The real question is structural strength and integrity and what agents are they using to make the mix dry fast. The Chinese could be using some nasty chemicals that wouldn't fly in building materials over here (Chinese drywall anyone?).

    Still, if the units end up being even roughly equivalent to poured concrete, I could see living in a printed house, no problem.

    • by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:14PM (#47372113)

      In the photos, it looks like they're hanging sheets of pre-printed concrete.

      I'm not sure this is anything novel, other than how they "printed" the Lego pieces and then drove them to the site.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Poured concrete house with no rebar? Sounds like a bad idea when an earthquake hits. I don't see anything in this process that would provide the necessary flexing strength.

      • by tibit ( 1762298 )

        No different from a brick building, really. You can use brick in some places, in some other places you can't. Hopefully here they could use brick :)

    • There are multiple indoor air quality issues with occupying any new home.

      Formaldehyde and a host of known carcinogens leach from things like new carpet and OSB wallboard.

      Remember the FEMA trailers?

  • by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:18PM (#47372127)

    As the future president of the U.S.A. would say, I'm not sure.

    I would trust Contour Crafting constructions since they're built in a single run. But not this method of printing half walls in a factory which are then assembled on-site, I'm not sure what they're gaining by doing it this way. Looks more like a 3D printed puzzle to me.

    • Re:Not sure (Score:5, Insightful)

      by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:43PM (#47372293)

      But not this method of printing half walls in a factory which are then assembled on-site, I'm not sure what they're gaining by doing it this way.

      I assume you missed the part about building 10 single-room buildings in a day for $5,000 each.

      • I assume you missed the part about building 10 single-room buildings in a day for $5,000 each.

        Well, the price is right, but people have been building modularly for a long time. Single room buildings don't really seem that challenging, especially since it is just a concrete box.

        The Hilton Palacio Hotel [] in San Antonio was built in just 202 days, and that was 500 rooms, fully furnished, decorated and kitted (down to the bottle openers and coffee makers). And this was back in 1968.

    • Its certainly possible that they would get similar or better results just creating those sections with forms. Same amount of material would be used, with the added benefit of tighter dimensional control.

      Also, additive forming makes it difficult to include reinforcement bars, particularly vertical ones.
    • Re:Not sure (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @07:57PM (#47373015) Homepage

      Well you see the whole show was technically an illusion. The extrusion process for the material is really neither here nor there. The computer control of a concrete pump and the outlet of a house. The real important information that everyone is ignoring is the concrete mix. What is in it, how are they achieve higher extrudability with low slump [], what is the compressive and tensile strength of the concrete, how is it being reinforced, what are it's insulative properties, how is moisture movement being controlled, what happens when ice forms and how does it handle cracking. Exactly how toxic is the mix and how safe is it to use. What happens when you cut and drill into it.

      Everyone loves to focus on 3D printing whilst ignoring the material the is used to do the printing and how it actually performs.

  • by l0ungeb0y ( 442022 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:19PM (#47372133) Homepage Journal
    Seems they could have simply created some "molds" with a some 2x4s and a couple plywood sheets and just dumped the cement formula in to make the individual walls instead of this elaborate process. How has the process of making a cement slab been improved by using an expensive industrial grade 3D printer? Smells like "we did it because we could" rather than "doing it because you should".
    • well, because 3d printing draws the page clicks.

      As you noticed, they could have achieved the same 'feat' by simply taking a concrete truck, some hoses, and filling in molds. But then no one would care.

    • Seems they could have simply created some "molds" with a some 2x4s and a couple plywood sheets and just dumped the cement formula in to make the individual walls instead of this elaborate process.

      How many laborers would they need to make all of those molds to allow them to build 10 buildings in 24 hours? Would your method be any cheaper than $5,000 per building?

      • Once you have the forms, you can bang the buildings out all day. 3d printing is interesting not for churning out identical houses, which yes we can do very cheaply already, but for making custom ones on-site. So it is quite puzzling what they hoped to prove by doing so. Clearly the printer and process work for building little square shacks.

        Of course, China has whole cities standing empty, so I'm pretty sure they don't need to come up with new fast ways to build more...

    • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
      That was my thought upon seeing them assembling the rectangular sections on site.

      What does seem interesting is the idea at the end of the article of constructing a printer on site and having it print out more interesting shaped houses. In that case, there would be tremendous gains since this machine is very flexible in the patterns it can print. A work crew could spend a few days setting it up, 24h to print the house, then a few days polishing and cleaning up the printer. The roof might take a bit mor
    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      The best walls (for the cost) are thin shells on the outside and inside, with a gap in the middle filled with cheap insulation, rather than solid walls. Supports needed between them, depending on materials. The new process lets you get that pretty quickly and uniformly. The "next best" I've seen was pre-fab styrofoam block system you assemble like Legos on site and pour the concrete into.

      There's a lot of labor and expertise to get 2x4s and plywood to make strong, straight walls from dumped concrete.
      • Consider yourself ceremoniously modded as I have previously posted.

        As the Queen of England has no real power, this mod helps not a bit with your Karma.

        Nonetheless, well posted.

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )

          As the Queen of England has no real power,

          The Queen has infinite power, so long as she chooses to not wield it. Of course, I live in a commonwealth country, and saying that could get me into a fight, but nobody has actually argued it, other than being offended I'd say something that diminishes the Queen's Divine Right.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      Maybe they want to reduce the number of trees cut down to make those plywood sheets? Don't forget the amount of chemicals used to kill off insects, make the wood fireproof, adjust the color, bind the woodchips together.

  • ...phthalates and bisphenol A vapors?

  • Advantage? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SlayerofGods ( 682938 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:44PM (#47372297)

    While 3d printing is cool and all what advantage does 'printing' concrete slabs offer or normal precast molds and just pouring the concrete in the old fashion way?
    The article doesn't make it clear, but since this is a company and not an experiment one has to assume they see sort of useful reason in doing it this way, but for the life of me I don't see what it is.
    If you're using a mold for concrete it's almost literally as fast as you can pour the concrete when using one...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Jesus, does anybody really have to explain this to you? You do realise that the printer is controlled by SOFTWARE? You do realise that because of that, you don't have to make a DIFFERENT MOULD for every type of wall you want to build, because you don't use a mould? Jesus.

      You can create round walls, walls of different heights, etc. You can eventually take your printer out to the building site and build directly onto the foundations, etc.etc.

      How can people actually be asking stupid questions like this?

      • You've obviously never done construction... there's no market for 7' 11" walls, 8 foot walls, and 8' 1" walls when 8 foot walls will work fine.... goto a lumber store, you'll fine 2x4, 2x6, and 2x8, etc. Why? It's not like the saw couldn't be easily be programmed to cut out a 2x3.75453 board it's just no one cares.
        And even for the options you would need available you could have 1000s of molds for the price of one of these printers.... 1000s of molds that can all be working at once while this printer can

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      This is a process for pre-fab walls. Not on-site pouring.
  • No, They Didn't (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:46PM (#47372311) Homepage Journal

    RE: the headline

    No. From TFA:

    Yingchuang New Materials Inc. was able to print the shells of 10 one-room structures in 24 hours

    The way this summary is worded, they make it sound like this company actually printed the buildings in place. Which did not, in fact, happen.

  • Chinese, in contrast to Americans, are more interested in 3D-printing buildings than in 3D-printing guns.
    Color me misinformed.

    • We don't need to print small one room huts in the U.S. We have more than enough old shipping containers lying around to fulfill this requirement.
  • they 3d printed bits of it and then assembled them...

    which is probably fine just a distinction.

  • The problem is that a half-hour after you move into one of these houses, you want to move into another.

  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @07:37PM (#47372901) Homepage Journal

    The primary cost of building a tropical doldrum Atmospheric Vortex Engine is a huge hollow structure called the "arena" that contains the low pressure created by the vortex. The low pressure is relieved through compact, high speed turbines at the base of the arena. Since the turbines are compact they don't have to be costly and since they are high speed they don't have to be numerous.

    What good is a tropical doldrum Atmospheric Vortex Engine?

    It can generate its own building material from the ocean and atmosphere -- so if you can print them rapidly you can have rapid doubling time exponential growth in clean baseload electric production that within a decade dwarfs all energy use by civilization.

    Oh, and it also provides tropical atoll seasteads sufficient to feed and house the total population of the world.

    Seastead this [].

    • pure calcium carbonate? concrete has an aggregate, sand and rocks for example, bound with that. otherwise you have a giant eggshell or snail shell, not too hard

      • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) *

        Look up Carbocrete's properties. While its true it does require some sand, in addition to the CaCO3 and carbon fiber, it requires much less sand than ordinary concrete and no rocks. Moreover, sand is ubiquitous on the ocean floor. A refinement of the calculation would substitute sand dredging for some of the CaCO3 energy use as well as including the energy for the carbon fiber.

        • but the ocean floor ISN'T always sand, there are clays and shell deposits. some areas have gravel which is good for this idea.

          The idea is good but in practice won't be quite so easy, sand might have to be mined and transported.

    • Impressive, but can you fit a timecube into it?

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle