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MIT Develops New System that Can 3-D Print an Entire Building

Apr 29, 2017 12:00 PM EDT
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A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has successfully developed a new system that's capable of 3-D printing the basic structure of an entire building.

The new system, dubbed as Digital Construction Platform (DCP), described in a paper published in the journal Science Robotics, could potentially produce structures faster and cheaper than traditional construction methods.

"The construction industry is still mostly doing things the way it has for hundreds of years," said Steven Keating, a mechanical engineering graduate at MIT and lead developer of the system, in a press release. "The buildings are rectilinear, mostly built from single materials, put together with saws and nails."

The Digital Construction Platform consists of a tracked vehicle carrying a large, industrial robotic arm that has a smaller, precision-motion robotic arm at its end. The smaller arm is controllable enough to be used to direct any conventional construction nozzle, including those used for pouring concrete or spraying insulation materials.

To test out the new 3-D printing system, the researchers developed a prototype that fabricated the foam-insulation network used to form a finished concrete structure. Unlike traditional 3-D printing, the Digital Construction Platform is a free-moving system that can construct an object of any size and is not only limited to building objects that can fit in their enclosure. Additionally, MIT's new 3-D printing system has a scope capable of preparing building surface, as well as collecting local materials.

Similar to the commercial insulated concrete formwork techniques, the construction method used by the researchers filled the polyurethane foam molds with concrete. Their prototype took less than 14 hours of printing time to build the basic structure of the walls of 50-foot-diameter, 12-foot-high dome.

The ultimate vision of the Digital Construction Platform is to have something totally autonomous that can be sent in far-off places, such as Antarctica, or even Mars, to make buildings for years. For this purpose, the researchers developed the new system to be self-sufficient, capable of operating electrically, even powered by solar panels.

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