3D printers on the jobsite?
I stumbled across a fascinating TED Talk by Behrokh Khoshnevis, professor at the University of Southern California. Khoshnevis, speaking in April 2012 at TEDx Medellín, discussed a possible future technology for the construction industry—one that uses large 3D printers to actually construct buildings, layer by layer.
The process, called Contour Crafting, has already been pegged to construct simpler structures (including lunar structures for NASA), and is capable of building homes, and eventually, larger buildings such as schools and hospitals, Khoshnevis said. The robot printer layers the walls, and can complete tasks such as painting walls and tiles, constructing plumbing systems, and completing the building wiring.
The technology, still in its very early stages, isn't near installing glass or curtain wall. However, I have to wonder if future developments could have a major impact on the industry, if building progresses in this direction. Could contract glaziers be out of a job?
Khoshnevis addressed the employment impact in his talk. "This is, of course, a serious issue. What is going to happen to the current construction workers? Construction is a major employer of the workforce," he said. "But this is not a new question. When the steam engine was invented, people asked what would happen to carriage drivers. And at the beginning of the last century, over 60 percent of Americans were farmers. Today, less than 1.5 percent are farmers. ... When there is a technology that makes sense, we have to use it."
The technology does face some hurdles before it can progress, he said. "We need to address the social impacts, in addition to the regulatory impacts, such as building inspection and permits. This needs to be addressed and taken care of before any construction technology becomes commonplace," he said.
While Contour Crafting may still be a futuristic construction technology, this talk reminded me of the ways 3D printing is already affecting our industry. Just last year, Mic Patterson at Enclos Corp. showed what his company is doing with rapid prototyping/3D printing.
Devlin is senior editor for Glass Magazine. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.