Degussa AG, one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of construction materials, will collaborate in the development of a USC computer-controlled system designed to automatically “print out” full-size houses in hours.
Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Behrokh Khoshnevis of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Information Sciences Institute has been developing his automated house-building process, called “Contour Crafting,” for more than a year.
Khoshnevis believes his system will be able to construct a full-size, 2,000- square-foot house with utilities embedded in 24 hours. He now has a working machine that can build full-scale walls and is hoping to actually construct his first house in early 2005.
Contour Crafting uses crane- or gantry-mounted nozzles, from which building material – concrete, in the prototype now operating in his laboratory – comes out at a constant rate.
Moveable trowels surrounding the nozzle mold the concrete into the desired shape, as the nozzle moves over the work.
Robots and other automated equipment have increased factory automation so much that factories are a dwinding source of all jobs. The next big target for automation has been and continues to be office work. Office automation is being addressed with the development of huge amounts of software and information systems.
What never seem to get as much attention is how to automate all the other places where people work aside from the office and the factory. Construction automation is an obvious big target. One approach is to do prefabrication of walls and other building pieces in highly automated factories. Then the prefabricated parts can be shipped to the construction site. But automated methods to doing construction at a site have advantages because they avoid the difficulty of shipping large walls, floors, and ceilings to a site. Also, automated site construction techniques allow more flexibility in site design.
My take: In economics language, this is called “g>r”, which refers to the growth rate of an economy exceeding its rate of interest. If we’re going to make it through our forthcoming fiscal crises, it will be through innovations such as these.