Six months and tens of thousands of dollars. In approximate terms, that is the time and resources that one must commit to building a home. It is a process that has changed minimally, if at all in certain countries, over the past decade. For many individuals the upfront cost of a home is not a feasible economic outlay, resulting in over one hundred and fifty million individuals across the globe living in homelessness, and one in eight people living in urban slums . On the industrial side, the construction industry faces problems that include high accident rates, declining skilled workers, high costs, and low labor efficiency . With new technology and the rise of 3D printing, companies such as Contour Crafting are discovering ways to lower the time and more importantly the cost of building a home, and in the process significantly reducing the waste and environmental impact that results from the necessary and seemingly permanent home-building industry.
Using traditional building techniques, homes are built piecemeal, with specialized labor focusing on the various parts until each is completed and erected as a whole. This requires a multitude of skilled laborers, and significant time devoted to modifying and shaping each piece throughout the process. Utilizing the advent of additive manufacturing, Contour Crafting has developed a layered fabrication process, also known as solid free form fabrication or rapid prototyping that allows construction to occur by processing concrete layer by layer until the walls of a home are completed, followed by the windows and roof through traditional construction methods . This process reduces the cost of home construction to one-fifth of traditional cost and slashes the time to completion to a single day. Additive manufacturing has directly impacted product development for home construction in two critical ways. First, Contour Crafting is able to automatically construct a single house, or colony of houses with a single computer set-up . Traditionally, the scoping and “set-up” time for a home varies drastically by project and requires architectural and engineering skills, hiking up labor costs. Second, in traditional home development, manual construction of layers results in uneven surfaces that are later required to be smoothed and finished. The use of additive manufacturing allows for immediate creation of perfectly accurate and thus smooth surfaces, thereby dramatically reducing raw materials, labor, and time required for each part of a housing structure .
In the short term, Contour Crafting is working on perfecting the technology to roll-out 3D printers that can be easily deployed globally for home development. Creating a printer that can easily be taken apart and put back together, fit into a truck or storage container, and thus reach developing areas of the world that most desperately need quick and affordable housing is the critical task at hand . Under current plans the printers will only need one or two operators to set-up and oversee function on-site. Longer term, Contour Crafting is working on larger-scale technologies, bigger printers, and more flexible machinery that can be utilized by NASA and other space organizations to develop the future of housing on Mars and elsewhere in space.
An integral part of the success of the technology is dependent on the training of workers who can utilize the printer on-sight and equally important utilize the knowledge to understand the mechanics of the process in order to innovate and integrate this method properly in communities, especially when deployed in developing nations. I recommend the company spend significant thought and resources in developing the skills of the individuals that will be overseeing the printers in the field. Additionally, I recommend that management focus on the pressing need of housing before forging ahead with other items such as furniture, tiles, clothing. It is enticing to utilize the technology and computing ability with other materials, but housing is in crucial demand and a fundamental human need.
With Contour Crafting’s available technology that can reduce homelessness and spur rapid home recreation following natural disasters, how should the company think about licensing, leveraging, or donating the technology to municipal and other organizations that are well-placed to allocate to individuals in need?
How should Contour Crafting optimize between time spent driving innovation for housing on Earth to meet current needs vs. planning for the future in developing the optimal technology for 3D printing of homes in space?
 Perhach, Paulette (2016). “Future House: 3-D Printed and Ready to Fly.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 July 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/07/21/us/future-house-3-d-printed-and-ready-to-fly.html.
 Warszawski, A., and Navon, R. (1998) “Implementation of robotics in buildings: current status and future prospects,” Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, Vol.124, No.1, pp. 31-41.
 Khoshnevis, B., et al (2001). Automated Construction Using Contour Crafting. Industrial and Systems Engineering, University of Southern California, sffsymposium.engr.utexas.edu/Manuscripts/2001/2001-56-Khoshnevis.pdf.
 Weinstein, David, and Peter Nawara (2015). “Determining the Applicability of 3D Concrete Construction (Contour Crafting) of Low Income Houses in Select Countries.” Cornell Real Estate Review, vol. 13, no. 11, 1 June 2015.
 Scott, Clare (2017). “Contour Crafting Prepares for Series Production of Robotic Construction 3D Printers.” 3DPrint.Com | The Voice of 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing, 22 June 2017, 3dprint.com/178100/contour-crafting-series-production/.