Navy Helps Fund 3D Printing of Buildings

3D HouseAdd to guns and prosthetic hands something much bigger and heavier forming from the nozzle of a 3D printer — buildings “printed” out of concrete.

Partially funded by the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation Countour Crafting is trying to develop 3D printed buildings using concrete. Company founder Behrokh Khoshnevis is a professor and director of Manufacturing Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Southern California.

Concrete printers would be able to build a 2,500-square-foot building within a single day, according to Khoshnevis.

For the military, that means soldiers deploying to a remote location with little or no infrastructure could be operating out of permanent structures pretty soon after a combat engineer unit arrived with printers and material aboard a C-17.

Essentially, building via printer would work just like any computer assisted manufacturing program. But instead of a robotic tap and die machine turning out parts according to a program, it would be an oversized printer following programmed schematics to lay down, layer by layer, a building, including outside and interior walls, spaces for doors and windows and all electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning conduits, according to Khoshnevis’ website.

In a video of a presentation he made last year Khoshnevis says the machines he is working with now are capable of printing out concrete walls able to bear a compressive stress of 10,000 pounds per square inch. According to the Portland Concrete Association, which represents concrete manufacturers nationwide, conventional concrete has a psi of 7,000 or less.

Anything above that, up to 14,500 psi, is considered high strength.

Building construction is about the only thing that is not automated today, Khoshnevis says. At the same time it kills about 10,000 people a year and injures about 400,000.

Given the history of U.S. military and related missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Khoshnevis observations on other aspects of conventional construction should also have meaning to the Pentagon.

“The [existing] process is pretty corruption prone,” he said. “It’s very costly and always over budget.”

Looking even further ahead, and farther away, Khoshnevis says 3D construction is likely the solution to be “one of the very few feasible approaches for building structures on the Moon and Mars, which are being targeted for human colonization before the end of the new century.”

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is an associate editor and White House correspondent for Military.com. Bryant covers all corners of the military arena, is an expert on "Don't Ask Don't Tell" issues, religious proselytizing and other ongoing military policy issues. He has covered Air Force support missions during the Kosovo War and in 2006 the aero-medical evacuation mission out of Balad Air Base, Iraq.A journalist since 1979, Jordan also covered stories in Lebanon, Gaza and Morocco. During the Vietnam War he was assigned to 15th Admin. Co., 1st Cavalry Division, Bien Hoa Army Base. Before joining Military.com Jordan was a staff writer and deputy news editor for Military Timesnewspapers in Springfield, Va.

14 Comments on "Navy Helps Fund 3D Printing of Buildings"

  1. wholewheatoast | January 20, 2014 at 5:53 am |

    I guess by mixing concrete with stronger epoxies that could increase the strength and lessen the amount of concrete being used

  2. For concrete you mix cement, water, and an aggregate into a slurry which is then formed into a structure. The mixture can be varied by each of the ingredients, then formed into a final shape either by setting in a form or by blowing to a shape. It is difficult to imagine the boulder dam being 3d printed, or what type of printer nozzle you would need to shoot aggregate of varying size. But if you can build a house could you not also build a BLT on toast with mayo. Would that still be printing or replicating?

  3. In the future, it looks like jobs in construction will be very few.

  4. Now that's cool. BUT, what if you want reinforced concrete? I mean it's great if we save on military contractors charging the taxpayers through the nose during oversea deployments where you don't care too much about a structure surviving an earthquake or the next 50 years. If you wanted good old reinforced conctrete looks like you would still have to set up the structure with manual labor and pour it in.

  5. Would doing this with a different material be cheaper? ie- Steel frame with steel walls

  6. About 2 months ago I bought a 3D printer to build my own robotic hand designs just for fun. I'm glad to see 3D printing technology is not only getting cheaper and more reliable, but also more widespread in application. Someday we may even print our own food.

  7. Since low cost powdered titanium is now a reality, maybe the navy should try to 3d print a titanium fighting vessel, or assemble it from 3d print components. 3d printing of titanium onto autoclave aerated concrete substrates for example could make incredibly strong, light weight and corrosiion proof hull components for combat ships. much more robust in a fire fight than aluminum such as used in LCS class vessels.

  8. The military has a habit of turning temporary facility and making it permanent. As mission changes, can these facilities be remodeled to meet the change and flexibility that is needed? Can additions be added at any point of the structure, like a second floor or additional wings after a period of time has gone by. What about copy rights, like heating and air conditioning units? How do we trian maint. Personnel to take care of the facilities infrastructure. This a good idea for shells of buildings. A good team can build K-SPANs just as quick.

  9. Casy O. Cofer | January 21, 2014 at 3:36 pm |

    Readily available concrete can be enhanced with many admixtures. I am proposing the: superplasticizer – silica fume – polyvinyl alcohol fibers for added: workability – compressive strength – and polyvinyl alcohol fibers actually bond to the concrete itself providing strength with no corrosive potentialities.
    The Contour Crafting is very advanced. I want to add something I feel is very important to consider. The entire building need not be constructed by this method. For approval purposes, entire building construction is not even preferable. Rather, think modularly. Building multi-story structures has proven to be most efficient. The finishing work floor by floor takes the most time. Smaller, steel track-based, concrete printers capable of being installed on a solid, prepared, and inspected floor could quickly build custom apartment designs in a magnificent array of floor plans. Individual floors could be designed with 19 feet ceilings allowing the concrete printer to build to a height of ~17 feet or two custom stories on one standard floor; this configuration could allow for the option of 19 feet ceilings in some units. Critically, I hope to see the Contour crafting industry become a reality, but I think that smaller steel-track based modular units capable of nearly finished custom designed multi-unit dwellings on multi-story structures will best allow for this technologies market entrance. I believe Mr. Khoushnevis and Mrs. Napolitano can make this vision a reality. There is so much that can be achieved with innovation. America’s future rests on our ability to be creative and innovate. Thank You for reading this message.

  10. Why can't building just be oursourced? What would this technology add to the US military? Bunkers?

  11. Check this guy out. He built 3D printer in his garage all by himself. And already has results with concrete walls. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97QPzhroF94&fe

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRdOgVuMWuE

  12. why use a large cad? A building that can be poured rapidly is already possible by the use of Styrofoam block forms. the only other need for what the military needs would be to have a slightly thicker wall. The up side to using the block forms is the building would be insulated at the same time. A fast setting mix would work but a foundation to set this on would need time to cure to be able to withstand the weight of the wall structure. The computer geeks obviously do not know enough about concrete to make these claims of possible construction times. It is a good idea but it wouldn't work unless they can find a super concrete that will cure is minutes even if it was a dry pack mixture which is the only way I see this working at all.

  13. Rob Hendricks | January 22, 2014 at 9:37 pm |

    Nasa is also trying to use this technology to 3D print moon bases without people being present:
    http://3dprintboard.com/showthread.php?1198-NASA-To-3D-Print-Moon-Bases

    They plan to start within 5-10 years. Pretty incredible!

  14. Moving a military division is basically moving a small city, then operating it in locations with no infrastructure. The Lessons Learned in Afghan/Iraq is moving those supplies & operating infrastructure is expensive. We spent almost $1B renting CONEX containers plus more $M buying trailers for housing.

    Given a FOB-based war, tents no longer work. A cost-effective concept is that the pre-loaded shipping containers (a world standard) become the needed infrastructure.

    This saves money, time, manpower, and provides better conditions for soldiers/sailors/Marines/airmen. If you get creative, CONEX can be a hospital, an armored wall (HESCO plus), a gun tower, a barracks, an ops ctr, etc. They can be easily armored with dirt (a CONEX can support many tons on top of it). Just reducing unloading/reloading can save thousands of man-hours (see the British Army analysis re modular ammo system).

    Just watch Baghdad ER.

    Imagine having 20,000 soldiers with secure housing, modular operations, and a working toilet system (diseases are still a major casualty source).
    http://www.slideshare.net/James8981/conex-3034422

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