Logo: University of Southern California

Caterpillar Inc. Funds Viterbi 'Print-a-House' Construction Technology

System can already build six-foot walls; further work will address design, robotics and other issues
Eric Mankin
August 28, 2008 —

Caterpillar, the world's largest manufacturer of construction equipment, is starting to support research on the "Contour Crafting" automated construction system that its creator believes will one day be able to build full-scale houses in hours.

Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, says the system is a scale-up of the rapid prototyping machines now widely used in industry to "print out" three-dimensional objects designed with CAD/CAM software, usually by building up successive layers of plastic.

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Printing a wall: nozzle mechanism makes successive passes to build in layers.
"Instead of plastic, Contour Crafting will use concrete," said Khoshnevis; actually, it's a special concrete formulation provided by USG, the multi-national construction materials company that has been contributing to Khoshnevis' research for some years as a member of an industry coalition backing the USC Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT), home of the initiative.

The feasibility of the Contour Crafting process has been established by  a recent research effort which has resulted in automated fabrication of six-foot concrete walls.

Caterpillar will be a major contributor to upcoming work on the project, according to Everett Brandt, an engineer in Caterpillar's Technology & Solutions Division, who will work with Khoshnevis.  Another Caterpillar engineer, Brian Howson, will also participate in the effort.

Goals for this phase of the project are process and material engineering research to relate various process parameters and material characteristics to the performance of the specimens to be produced. Various experimental and analytical methods will be employed in the course of the research.

Future phases of the project are expected to include geometric design issues,
State of the art: printed out concrete wall.
research in deployable robotics and material delivery methods, automated plumbing and electrical network installation, and automated inspection and quality control.

Khoshnevis has many patents in the rapid prototyping area, including two which have been licensed by USC for commercialization, and is a tenured faculty member in the Viterbi School's Daniel J.Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, a Fellow member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, a Fellow member of the Society for Computer Simulation, and a Senior member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineering.

More information about CRAFT is available at http://craft.usc.edu/