Homepage Forums After Fusion Contour Crafting – Radical change in housing

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    I’d like to draw your attention to “Contour Crafting” –

    Contour Crafting (CC) is a layered fabrication technology developed by Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of Southern California. Contour Crafting technology has great potential for automating the construction of whole structures 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, embedded in each house all the conduits for electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning.

    Basically, it’s like a cake decorator or a dot-matrix printer that prints out a house. Check out the site, they have cool animation.

    Yes, this is mechanized house-building. Apparently, cement dries really fast. They put chemical retardants into the cement to slow down the drying for human workers to have time to mix and spread. With this new houseprinter gizmo, there’s no need to retard the drying. Just squirt out the cement and build houses that dry really fast. You design the house on a computer, and it prints it out for you. This means house design will conceivably become much more diverse, customized, and cheaper at the same time.

    And yes, this means the machines will be the builders of choice. Yet another line of blue collar work lost to machines.

    This is innovative, fascinating technology. Something that promises to raise the standard of living for billions of people in developing countries at a very low cost. But also one that will be unsettling for millions of construction workers. And what will it do to the real estate market? (Actually, it may give new meaning to “flipping” houses, as you can basically build a house in a few days, then change your mind, build another – it could make housing “disposable”)

    I mention this in the fusion forum because I found I had a strong emotional reaction against this innovation.

    On one level I appreciate the great contribution this will be to improving the standard of living for millions. On another level, I felt a sense of loss – machines taking over this honorable line of work.

    I had a chance to talk to the inventor about it (He’s a USC Prof). And this only made things worse. I did admire the innovation, but then lamented the loss of blue collar employment. This was met with an offhand remark that it wasn’t any big loss, not like banging a hammer on some nails is a big deal or anything. Climbing up on a ladder. I interpreted this as pure arrogance from some egghead who had no respect for the art of balancing on ladders and building a house with your hands. He had some kind of brain vs. body prejudice. Work with the brain was good, with the body was inferior. I sensed emasculation from this invention. He framed it as a leveling of the playing field – old people and women can “build” their own houses. I was told I romanticize house-building and blue collar work and that this gizmo will reduce injury. I was given a long list of statistics on construction related injuries.

    Yet my visceral reaction was not quieted.

    I’m trying to think about how to frame it for myself so I don’t have this reaction. I suppose that with machines out-performing people in the building of houses, the construction workers have several choices – to work with the machines, supplementing them, to offer creativity and prestige from custom hand-crafted – craftsmanship. To rebel? Luddites.

    I guess the real problem isn’t with the folks that work with the machines or know how to market themselves as artists but rather with the rank and file who just want to wake up, go to work, put in a hard day of physical labor and go home to their reward. And not mess around with learning another damn computer program, auto-cad or whatnot. Freakin’ computerized world. Sitting at a freakin’ desk. Is there no escape?

    Anyway, it occurs to me that some people may have similar reactions towards fusion and the changes that it might bring to the world. While the reasoning side sees that it’s a good thing, something inside, a gut feeling, doesn’t sit well with it and resists it and feels disrespected.

    On a positive note – well, maybe not that positive – the other thing I got from the discussion was that any time you do something innovative, it’s harder to get funding than if you make an incremental change to something already well established. The inventor of Contour Crafting had to work hard for his funding (spending too much of his time for it, and not enough on innovating), and expressed frustration over it. At the time I spoke with him, there seemed to be a glimmer of a funding breakthrough on the horizon, so hopefully that came through. Fusion is a much bigger leap, and our battle for funding faces a much steeper hill.

    Yep, this isn’t that positive. What I seem to be saying here is that it’s validating to see something as straightforward as Contour Crafting also faces a hill. Innovators just have to work harder.

    Deep sigh.


    Fascinating technology, Rezwan. Hope he gets funding.

    The key point to realize about technological advance is that whether it helps or hurts depends on how it is put to use. Under the current system, where the goal is to maximize profits, automation can put people out of work. But if we were able to allocate economic resources democratically, putting them where they are needed by the population, this would not be the case. Look around the world


    On conventional construction work


    You’re absolutely right. I see this on the logical level. I think I was reacting more to the way the guy dismissed physical skill as compared to mental skill. It just seemed like a put down and I got defensive even though I don’t build houses myself for a living.

    The way you put it, is much more reassuring. There is a lot of work to be done.

    I’m sure he will get/has gotten his funding. He’s tenacious and it’s a great innovation.


    This sounds like an exciting technology… imagine the ease of building great communities for the poor in other countries! For the first time they would have a place to live and a school to go to, this could really change the situation in the world! Now to make these communities self sufficient they will need power… thats where Focus Fusion comes in!

    AvatarGlenn Millam

    Look around the world

    AvatarGlenn Millam

    In addition, we need shorter working hours


    Glenn Millam wrote:
    That basic equation is what is driving globalization. It is the basis for Six Sigma. It underlies all economic thinking today, and businesses have no choice but to follow it, even if it makes people work like crazy. And we do it to ourselves, each time we go shopping.

    Had to look up six sigma. Intense.

    The statistical representation of Six Sigma describes quantitatively how a process is performing. To achieve Six Sigma, a process must not produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. A Six Sigma defect is defined as anything outside of customer specifications.

    Free, Perfect and Now was the title of a book on business I once scanned through at Borders. Gave me greater respect for the conundrum we find ourselves in.

    Attached files

    AvatarGlenn Millam

    Funny, isn’t it? We do it to ourselves. We all work so hard, and we end up making ourselves unhappy via our own constantly-rising expectations.

    One of the things I like about this project is the fact that it could be a great opportunity to relieve a big chunk of burden from people’s lives. If accomplished, it will set into motion over a century’s worth of research in numerous fields, and, at least for a while, allow life to exceed our expectations for it.


    As some one who does build houses from time to time , I can honestly say I do enjoy the work under the right conditions. It is also true , however, that over time the work can have destructive effects on the body(and mind! or what’s left of it!) With this growth based economy , we build too much , and in many instances for all the wrong reasons(profit vs. real need). Add in increasingly debilatating work conditions due to global warming,the need to make more money for the average worker just to run in place, just the amount of energy it takes to get your electricians , carpenters, plumbers ,painters,roofers to and from the job…..you get the picture! Traditional building as we know it is extremely wasteful and an enormous energy sink. While cutting out the blue collar element of construction at first put me off as well,it’s obvious that streamlining all facets of the current way in which we do “business” , regardless of the occupation, is in order and overdue so the contour crafting program definitely has a niche.
    On a different note Eric, I finally got John Dobson to explain his re-cycling universe theory to me last summer.(He spent a few days with us while he gave some lectures I had set up for him! At 91, he wore us out!!! I ‘ll dig it out and post it in the proper forum.
    Cheers—Jeff N ( the ex-jersey guy!)


    I wonder how they solve the issue of the material falling away due to not having moulds to hold it in place.

    I’m also interested in cheap housing approaches, my current plan for cheap housing is based on earth sheltered waterproof concrete domes, two main layers of concrete, outer layer is waterproof airerated concrete, single pour, with no reinforcement, offering the waterproofing aspect and insulation.

    The reason for avoiding the use of reinforcement in the outer layer is to avoid cracking/spalling/cancer, which appears an issue when using ordinary steel, or even stainless, or fiberglass rebar.

    Inner layer made up of reinforced concrete panels (much like those you’d see on a football.) which are probably bolted together so in the future if any degrade you can swap them out, providing the structural support for the building, and also serve as a thermal mass to help maintain a stable tempreature. Assembled in moulds of low enough weight so can be hand assembled, and surface smoothed so no need for finishing plaster work. (You could also include colouring so no need for painting..)

    Inner lay panels to have insert threaded anchor points so you can attach services in a surface mounted fashion and avoid drilling, hiding, or otherwise making difficult future maintence when it is needed of such things as wiring, plumbing.

    My current thought is that to form the top mould for the outer layer (The inner mould will be the inner layer already in place.), is to use the inner panels for the next home upside down.

    I plan to build my own home using this current approach (Though open to evolving it or dealing with as yet unknown issues I’m unaware of.) as I reckon it won’t cost much and I’ll be able to afford to do it myself, and build it myself. Then once proof of concept has been achieved and tested, I can then build some more and not need to worry about anyone funding me 🙂

    I also plan to make all details/costing/plans/etc. freely available to the public so others can copy my designs.

    It would be nice to automate this approach mind you, anyone thoughts on the realistic aspect of this current design ?

    AvatarBrian H

    Nanos wrote: I wonder how they solve the issue of the material falling away due to not having moulds to hold it in place.

    It would be nice to automate this approach mind you, anyone thoughts on the realistic aspect of this current design ?

    Speed, boyo, speed. The concrete sets as it is sprayed, so it doesn’t have to sit around in molds hardening.

    As for the lament about blue-collar jobs, hand-made housing, etc., if you ever get stuck with the results of the very common practice of conning the building inspectors by doing some of what’s mandated for quality and safety, showing him, then ripping it out and carrying on cheapo-style afterwards, you’d have less nostalgia.

    Here on the Wet Coast, many condominiums were almost rendered worthless by application of a central-continent building code, which mandated sealed walls and paid insufficient attention to exterior flashing design. The result has been a multi-decade “Leaky Condo” disaster, in which the vastly higher rainfall levels here worked their way into the walls — and stayed and rotted and grew mould. Extensive condensation trapped in the walls had the same result. One smart and ethical contractor I knew showed the inspectors the nice, sealed wall liners — and then slashed them with a box cutter before closing up the walls. Saved the houses, because it permitted air circulation and drying.

    So fast, perfect, and EASILY REPLACED housing would be a fantastic blessing for many people.


    If it is setting up that fast, it is something other than portland cement based concrete. Special addatives are used to get foundations to be ready to take a load in seven days. (referred to ash “High Early”). Normal, non-accelerated concrete cures for 14 to 28 days before use.

    And cement does not DRY. That would ruin it. The cementous bond is formed by the water in the mix linking molecules together. It’s called a hydrolic bond. Care is taken to keep fresh concrete moist, so that it cures well and develops it’s full intended strength.

    Don’t have any idea what they are proposing to use, but it is not regular portland cement based concrete.

    From Wikipedia:

    When water is mixed with Portland cement, the product sets in a few hours and hardens over a period of weeks. These processes can vary widely depending upon the mix used and the conditions of curing of the product, but a typical concrete sets (i.e. becomes rigid) in about 6 hours, and develops a compressive strength of 8~ MPa in 24 hours. The strength rises to 15~ MPa at 3 days, 23~ MPa at one week, 35~ MPa at 4 weeks, and 41~ MPa at three months. In principle, the strength continues to rise slowly as long as water is available for continued hydration, but concrete is usually allowed to dry out after a few weeks, and this causes strength growth to stop.

    Setting and hardening of Portland cement is caused by the formation of water-containing compounds, forming as a result of reactions between cement components and water. Usually, cement reacts in a plastic mixture only at water/cement ratios between 0.25 and 0.75. The reaction and the reaction products are referred to as hydration and hydrates or hydrate phases, respectively. As a result of the reactions (which start immediately), a stiffening can be observed which is very small in the beginning, but which increases with time. The point in time at which it reaches a certain level is called the start of setting. The consecutive further consolidation is called setting, after which the phase of hardening begins.


    Traditional building materials would not work well with anything large for so many reasons.
    However, if they were to utilize the newer generation materials such as Grancrete which is a Magnesium phosphate material that is fast setting, then this is more than just feasible.
    Right now they are either mold casting that material or are shooting it with a shotcrete gun onto forms.

    AvatarPhil’s Dad

    Still plenty of “Blue Collar” work in this senario. Glaziers & carpenters for doors and windows. Interior fit (pluming and electrics still need doing even with conduits) flooring, decorating etc. You might lose a few “brickies” but they could always retrain to setup and use the new equipment. It’s not such a radical change – just an improvement to an existing function (wall building). Always best to change one thing at a time.

    And yes; if putting someone out of a job was a reason to hold back progress we would still be subsistence farmers. In some countries people still are. How are they doing?

    If this fusion stuff lives up to its promise pitty the poor coal miner / grid lineman / oil rigg worker / gas pipeline engineer / petrol pump attendant / prospecting geologist / refinary worker / tanker captain (and ship yard craftman) / windmill designer / solar paanel fitter / barrel maker / add your own… / not to mention all those people making a fortune out of climate change. What are we thinking!!! :gulp:

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