New Inventions

Constructing the Future

Written by David-Anthony Gordon | New Inventions | Wednesday 3rd April 2013 14:29:00 GMT

Contour Crafting is here to change the construction industry.

Animated design of Contour Crafting at work

Animated design of Contour Crafting at work

It’s a familiar scenario. You know what your dream house will look like so you hire a contractor and agree it’ll be finished by a set date. Yet months later, you’re told that due to unforeseen circumstances, work will take an extra few months. Ok, maybe not a familiar scenario, since we’re all students with huge loans and terrible credit histories, but imagine this. Instead of inefficient humans building your house, you could get an efficient machine instead. And instead of construction taking months, it takes a day. Now stop imagining it and believe it because thanks to Contour Crafting, this will soon be the new reality.
Contour Crafting is the brainchild of Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering and Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC), and he estimates that the technology could be used in commercial construction in as little as three years time.
It all started with an earthquake and some DIY. In a 2004 article, Dr. Khoshnevis told Building Magazine UK, “In 1994 there was an earthquake in Los Angeles and a big crack appeared in my wall. While I was filling it, it occurred to me that the trowel was a very good tool as you can manipulate the material and get an excellent finish. At the same time, rapid prototyping processes were being developed, so I decided to combine the two to develop this idea. I started off with ceramics, then I thought: ‘Why not build houses?’”
This eureka moment will change the way an entire industry operates and almost 20 years later, Contour Crafting is nearly ready to make its commercial debut. So what is Contour Crafting and how does it work?
Put simply, contour crafting is a method of fabrication in which large parts can be made layer-by-layer using computer-controlled machinery (see video below). But that’s not all, it does.
“Once the basic structure is done, it can do finishing, tiling, and even painting,” Dr. Khoshnevis said. “We anticipate an average 25, 000 foot house can be built in 20 hours, custom design.”
The beauty of it is that it can directly from an architect’s CAD drawing. This means that architecture, engineering and construction will become even more integrated than they already are.
Contour Crafting is highly efficient, very fast, has low energy usage and emits a small fraction of the CO2 emissions associated with current construction. It will be very useful for emergency housing in natural disaster zones and social housing.
Despite the advantages, there are concerns at the huge loss of jobs that will inevitably follow once the industry adopts the technology. Dr. Khoshnevis however, points out industries adapt and evolve and that many new jobs will be created as well, especially among women and the elderly. In fact, an experienced elderly engineer could learn how to use the technology in as little as a few weeks.
“Currently women and the elderly do not have much opportunity to work in the construction industry,” he said in a TED speech last year. “With new technologies, like Contour Crafting, those groups of people can also be employed in more creative activities of construction.”
Contour Crafting USC
Contour Crafting being used in Space.
In addition to building houses and other structures on Earth, Contour Crafting will be used in Space. Last October, Phase I of a project on building human settlements in Space was completed using Contour Crafting technology. In two years they hope to have figured out how to build structures with lunar and Martian soil stimulants.
By the end of the decade, Contour Crafting will have revolutionized the construction industry with faster, better housing. The stuff of science fiction movies is about to become a reality. It is evident that the future is here and it’s called Contour Crafting.


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