Automation of Whole House Construction Using Contour Crafting
University of Southern California
* Behrokh Khoshnevis, Principal Investigator
Start: January 1, 2003
Conventional methods of manufacturing automation do not lend themselves to construction of large structures with internal features. This explains why the evolution of construction automation has been slow. A promising new automation approach is layered fabrication, generally known as solid free form fabrication or rapid prototyping, which uses an additive method and is capable of creating complex internal features. However, most of the current layered fabrication methods are limited by their ability to deliver a wide variety of materials applicable to construction. Additionally, they are severely constrained by the low rates of material deposition that makes them attractive only for the fabrication of small industrial parts.
This project addresses a novel construction automation approach using a layered fabrication process called Contour Crafting (CC) that has been developed at the University of Southern California. The process aims at automated construction of whole houses as well as sub-components. Using this process, a single house or a colony of houses, each with possibly a different design, may be automatically constructed in a single run.
The specific focus of the PIs' research plan is to extend their current research activities, which have so far concentrated on small scale parts, to build and test full-scale sections of houses using proper construction materials, and to investigate other pertinent scalability issues. Towards realizing these objectives, the PIs aim at conducting activities pertaining to: (a) development of crucial machine elements for construction of segments of full-scale houses, (b) software and control issues, and (c) experimentation, testing and analysis of constructed structures. It is anticipated that the research results will be also extendable to construction on other planets, and to the field of ceramic arts.
More about Contour Crafting:
In this process, large-scale parts can be fabricated quickly as compared to other prototyping methods. The chief advantages of the Contour Crafting process over existing technologies are the superior surface finish that is realized and the greatly enhanced speed of fabrication. The success of the technology stems from the automated use of age-old tools normally wielded by hand, combined with conventional robotics and an innovative approach to building three-dimensional objects that allows rapid fabrication times. Actual scale civil structures such as houses may be built by CC. Contour Crafting has been under development under support from National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research.
More recently, the direction of development has been in the use of various ceramics (including piezo electric actuators) and construction materials. Another high potential application is construction of civil structures such as houses. Emergency and low income housing construction fields are being considered by various entities. Also application of CC in building adobe structures using inexpensive materials is being pursued in conjunction with CalEarth organization.
As for the future development direction of CC, a relatively large multidisciplinary research team at the University of Southern California will be investigating the application of the technology in construction of modern civil structures, construction of structures on Moon and Mars, and in fine arts on creation of large ceramic sculptures.
Watch the NBC News segment on Contour Crafting.
To view additional details on this NSF award, click here.
Content updated on 6/29/2004