We are building Homes, bridges, offices − even villages with 3D printing. Is there no limit to what this disruptive technology can do?

3D printing, making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file, is revolutionising packaging.

Now, in a world first, we are using robots and 3D printers to design, plan and build a three-storey house.

Image: NCCR Digital Fabrication

The house that bots built

Professor Matthias Kohler and his team at Swiss University ETH Zurich are using robotics to assemble prefabricated timber structures. Robots are also constructing the 50m-long undulated walls. Plus, 3D printers are building the supporting formwork for the ceilings as well as ceiling slabs.

Designers are using the technologies together outside the laboratory for the first time.“Different technologies are actually coming together and kind of synergetically used to build a piece of architecture,” Kohler told BBC News.

Traditional materials therefore, will only used where needed. So, does 3D printing and robotics spell the end of houses built by humans?

“I think it is really about collaboration between humans and these new digital technologies, be it robots or 3D printers,” said Kohler. “It’s in the effectiveness of this collaboration where we will generate the win-win situation.”

The 200m2 ‘DFAB’ house will be ready in 2018.

A bridge to the future

From bridges to tree houses, 3D printing will become the most important disruptive technology in architecture and design. Dutch robotics firm MX3D is building the world’s first 3D-printed bridge across an Amsterdam canal.

MX3D’s software allows multi-axis industrial robots to print metals, plastics and combinations of materials in virtually any format. The project is a collaboration between MX3D, software giant Autodesk and construction company Heijmans, among others.

“By printing with 6-axis industrial robots, we are no longer limited to a square box in which everything happens,” says MX3D CTO Tim Geurtjens. “Printing a functional, life-size bridge is of course the ideal way to showcase the endless possibilities of this technique.”

3d printing - compelo
The Kooky Cubby. Image: Rhiannon Slatter


3D printing of treehouses and offices

At the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show in March, the Kooky Cubby 3D printed treehouse was on display. Drawing on technology from RMIT University’s Architectural Robotics Lab, it features PLA polymer walls and a marine-grade plywood floor.

“If it doesn’t need to be a thing of beauty and it just needs to be rapidly produced, then it’s only a matter of time before it [3D printing] is seen to be viable,” John Hainsworth of project partner Aurecon told the Guardian.

Other innovations include the world’s first 3D-printed office in Dubai and the WASP project in Italy.

The latter plans to use a 12m-high solar-powered 3D printer named ‘Big Delta’ to build an eco-village near Bologna.

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