With WinSun making buildings, Dini’s D-Shape and Khoshnevis’s Contour Crafting battling it out for space colonies, and WASP working to solve the world’s housing problems, it sometimes seems like concrete 3D printing is literally something “out of this world.” Instead, just as with other approaches to 3D printing, people are starting to develop their own extrusion based 3D printers, the latest of which being Alex Le Roux’s RepRap-based 3D Concrete Printer.
I caught up with Alex to understand a little more about the state of his project, its challenges and its possible applications. “The biggest challenge we had to face,” Alex explained, “has been to find the right thickness for the cement. It could not be too thick while it was inside the extruder, but after it had been deposited we wanted it to thicken very quickly in order to put another layer on top of it. You need a very specific combination of ingredients and that takes a lot of work.”
The ultimate goal of this project is to start going in the direction of being able to 3D print an entire house. “Not so much the full house or the aesthetics but we do want to automate the building of a house,” Alex said. “Our printer right now is a little too small for that, with a build volume of about 8’ x ‘8’ x 8’.”
Alex said he is very impressed by WinSun’s approach. “I think they have the right strategy as they just go for it and figure out the details later on. That is what we intend to do, try to talk to customers as much as possible and get out there on the market.”
At this point, the Backyard 3D Concrete Printer is a personal project, which has cost about $2,500, thus far. Although it could now be replicated for less than half that amount, Alex is looking for investors to help him take this from a garage project to a real commercial activity. He and his team are considering both selling the machine or selling a concrete 3D printing service to local customers.
One concrete possibility for the short term could be the construction of smaller structures, such as a two person house based on modules, or even a doghouse. Another interesting possibility being considered is using it to make furniture.
There are a lot of similarities between Alex’s machine and other large extrusion 3D printers; however, one relevant differentiating factor is that he and his team are moving away from Arduino and toward a LinuxCNC approach for realtime control of the extrusion arm. “This give us more capabilities in and machine control,” says Alex, “and that will give us capabilities more similar to Winsun’s. Our extruder is also fairly competitive from a technological standpoint.”
“All you need to do is get someone to do some electrical work and some plumbing and then you have something you could live in,” Alex says, pointing out that “the most expensive portion of building a house is the frame and structure of it. Getting the tubing and plumbing done is just a detail.”
The fact that students could build a system in their backyard to make houses just seems almost standard now and this fact is truly amazing. Time is on their side, as I don’t think we are going to be 3D printing houses until a few years from now, and everyone that starts getting involved in 3D printing generally keeps on growing. Or, in this case, keeps on building up.
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