Enormous Delta-bot 3D Designed to Print an Entire House

[Massimo Moretti] has a big idea – to build housing on the cheap from locally sourced materials for a burgeoning world population. He also has a background in 3D printing, and he’s brought the two concepts together by building a 12 meter tall delta-bot that can print a house from clay.

The printer, dubbed Big Delta for obvious reasons, was unveiled in a sort of Burning Man festival last weekend in Massa Lombarda, Italy, near the headquarters of [Moretti]’s WASProject. From the Italian-language video after the break, we can see that Big Delta moves an extruder for locally sourced clay over a print area of about 20 square meters. A video that was previously posted on WASProject’s web site showed the printer in action with clay during the festival, but it appears to have been taken down by the copyright holder. Still, another video of a smaller version of Big Delta shows that clay can be extruded into durable structures, so scaling up to full-sized dwellings should be feasible with the 4 meter delta’s big brother.

Clay extrusion is not the only medium for 3D printed houses, so we’ll reserve judgment on Big Delta until we’ve seen it print a livable structure. If it does, the possibilities are endless – imagine adding another axis to the Big Delta by having it wheel itself around a site to print an entire village.

[via Popular Science]

43 thoughts on “Enormous Delta-bot 3D Designed to Print an Entire House

  1. That’s all well and good until the community living in these houses on an emergency basis (please tell me this isn’t meant for [semi-]permanent housing) ends up living in them for extended periods of time and something like the Haiti earthquake happens once more. Clay huts wouldn’t fare well in an earthquake or flash flood, and another mass casualty brought on by sub-standard building supplies or design would once again strike the impoverished.

    It really is a neat idea. I just wouldn’t want to be the person who had to look back on it wishing I had thought further ahead.

    1. Luckily, now we have a delta-bot big enough to print a house we can build one and, you know, test it.

      Before, when we didn’t have such a thing, people would worry that if ever such a thing was invented the houses would just fall down or get washed away because no-one would test them. Let’s see if that’s what actually happens.

      1. Luckily, we’ve been able to make houses out of clay for millenia, and have tested them, and found out that they don’t fare well in earthquakes and floods, or even in heavy rains.

        That’s why rammed earth construction was invented.

    2. There are a few common styles of adobe that are able to be fired, either as bricks or by building a a large fire in the dwelling. It strains logistics to source fuel for each building but it greatly improves the durability of such houses. Keeping structures small and perhaps build a sort of compound for larger families would probably make them safer in earthquake prone regions.

      Their pathing needs work, it shouldn’t form vertical lines between courses.

      1. You could construct it such that the walls are all flues … with a round furnace all around that would later serve as seating. That way you wouldn’t have to build as large a fire or you could build a larger structure. The flues you didn’t wish to use later on could be filled with insulation foam as well. You could build a center tower flu as well for larger structures… The main drawback I see here is that it requires the printer to be built around the house…. That’s very impractical.

          1. I never said those would be continued in use…only for the firing. I actually said they’d be filled with insulation. It wouldn’t be hard to make one more like a conventional straight flu though… like for the one in the center…

    1. Indeed indeed! Too bad that common sense dictates that you will not be 3D printing emergency shelters anytime soon. But combine the exiting possibilities of 3D printing with those ‘poor people in Africa’ and you have the ideal combo to gain media attention.
      3D printing is new, slow and (thus) expensive. It would make much more sense to print expensive houses that are hard to build otherwise, not simple, fast and cheap to build like emergency shelters. Once 3D printers ‘are for printing cheap houses’ no 1%-er is going to have his house built with one.

      1. I always love how people show up to poop on anyone that puts out a proof of concept. There’s only one guarantee on the internet and it is that other people will always claim that you didn’t think of this or that simply because you show case a single use.

        1. What do you expect people to talk about?

          If it works, it works and there’s nothing to add. Spamming message boards with “kudos” or “Hey that’s great” is just asinine waste of time. It doesn’t result in anything – it’s just a socially mandated activity you do because in this social media era you have to thumbs up everything, or because you’re playing the popularity contest game, counting your “followers”, and think everyone else must care.

          The only actually interesting thing to talk about is why it doesn’t work, because that gives you something to work on.

          1. Who do you think you are encouraging? You think those people are reading every damn messageboard, just looking for praises from strangers?

            They’re busy enough doing their stuff, so what we do here is discuss what they’re doing for our own amusement and interest, and that invariably involves discussing what they’re doing wrong.

            In this context, people who are being “encouraging” are just patting themselves on the back. Either that, or they’re being stupid, like those who shout at the actors on screen in a movie theater.

    1. would be nice if you could just drive the printer into a vacant lot, hit go, and have a completed structure when it pulls out.

      i doubt it would be that simple though. you need to level the lot, and i would probibly want to lay down a more traditional concrete foundation before you print anything. you then need to level the rig to the foundation. the foundation could include all your plumbing, electrical conduit and hvac ductwork. and you can fill the voids with either insulation or rebar and additional concrete depending on the climate or seismic activity in the region.

      to allow for wider structures while keeping the thing a street legal vehicle, it might have a collapsible design allowing it to double or triple its width as well as reduce its height. but now were getting into a lot of joints and moving parts. so im thinking it will arrive on site with some assembly required, sort of like carnival rides. might take a day to set up and print the building on the next day, take it apart the 3rd and arrive on a new construction site on the 4th.

      also not going to be 100% automated. probibly going to need a few workers to manually install electrical boxes for outlets and connect it to the conduit system during the print. then all the finishing like plastering and painting interior walls, sealing exterior walls and weatherproofing the roof. installing fixtures, doors, windows, lighting, etc.

      and the big question. did any of that save you money over traditional construction?

      1. > you need to level the lot

        How about a lot preparation end unit that first levels and digs for foundation. Then a concrete pour. Then the printer on top.

        Workers could add horizontal rebar to tie-in during the print process.

      2. As far as I can see, the prefabricate houses never got real big sales here in Europe. At least family homes (1 to 2 families in tha house) seem to be build the traditional way, brick by brick, rafter by rafter, all handmade.

        But what do I know from Europe…

          1. Point being that in Europe, ordinary houses aren’t just torn down every 40 years and re-built because people don’t live in American style sub-urbias with vast swathes of single story homes. They live more often in townhouses and apartments that are simply repaired and renovated every now and then.

            So prefab homes don’t have much room on the market. If only a third of the population lives in sub-urbia, then getting 16% would actually be half of all the homes that can be pre-fabricated and simply trucked in place.

  2. Ok, it’s hackaday and we are all nerds, though seriously if you’ve ever seen some professional bricklayer build up some wall then you understand that this is nothing more than the nerd way of building a house.

  3. In the places of the world where the local building code allows living in a hut, there are plenty of local workers who will line up around the block for an opportunity to carry things and run a shovel. 3D printing houses is really cool, but I’m not sure what the practical use is.

    1. That’s the problem with replacing laborers with robots.

      If you can hire a person to do the job, there’s no sense to use the robot, because you have to feed the person anyhow. It means you’re paying double: first to the unemployed worker, and then to have the robot.

      Even when the robot is vastly more productive than the person, it still saves you resources to keep the person working to utilize their labor instead of having them sit idle. That means you have no need for the robot, and the only reason why it would be more economical is if you intend to let the person starve.

      Which in a developing country setting, or in poor neighborhoods etc. would be competely counterproductive.

      1. Robots have a place as long as someone is getting paid to run it. I have yet to see a 3D printer that requires no human intervention. Most of the time the printer screws up. It’s just to difficult to create perfect objects when using a viscous fluid. Something this large would need a team of individuals to service it and from the looks of the structure, it still needs to be cleaned up. It’s not a one-off wonder.

        1. That’s exactly the point. You need a team of highly trained (and highly paid!) engineers to build and set up the robot, then operate it, and then another set of workers to do the finishing.

          It’s more expensive and takes more actual effort to build a house with the robot than simply having the local people press clay into bricks using wooden forms and manually lifting them in place – like they’ve been doing it for thousands of years.

      2. Totally agree, plus two points for using local workers the old fashioned way :
        1 – They will be working, so less people idling on the streets, smoking, drinking, stealing
        2 – This is work that can be done with a minimum of instruction. So, an opportunity of work for those people that had not access to school, but still need to feed themselves and their family

      1. Nobody suggested the villagers pay for this. Usually governments step in to foot the bill if they are convinced this will make a worthwhile investment, i.e., how can they make money off of it.

        1. Of course.

          It’s a humanitarian aid racket. Instead of empowering the local people, you contract this company, pay them a bunch of money, they make bunch of mud huts and then leave. Now all the local construction workers are out of business and the village becomes poorer still – but at least they have mud huts!

    1. Well, that’s rammed earth for you. Only, not rammed so it’s temporary.

      The basic technology is to take two wooden boards with a couple pegs crosswise to keep them at a suitable distance, place it on the ground, pour some dirt and clay between them and then stomp on the dirt with your feet or wooden clubs etc. Them move the form forwards and upwards in layers until you have a suitably long and tall wall.

      With the addition of cement, it becomes a kind of dry concrete mix that hardens after it rains, but it’ll stand up on its own anyway. If you have a machine or lots of people to do the stomping, you can pretty much erect a house in two days. Straw, twigs, fibers, chicken wire etc. can be added to make it earthquake resistant.

      That’s pretty much how they built half the wall of China.

      1. I expect temporary for something like this. The fabric is what separates this from simple rammed earth. Perhaps impregnate the fabric with a solidifying compound and when the ramming is complete (using the form with this fabric cover inside) wet the fabric and allow it to solidify and contract slightly for a stronger wall structure?

  4. If you look at it as a proof of concept it’s not quite as… silly. I mean, you could probably make some really interesting sculptures with it (if you could work out how to fire the clay once it’s finished). But, it’s obviously not a solution for constructing houses – there’s a reason we build buildings the way we do. What we have here is a giant mud sandcastle building robot – and as far as I know, there’s not much call for giant mud sandcastles in architecture.

    What would be more useful for that task would be a transportable container (like a shipping container) that you feed raw materials (clay, wood, metal) in one end, and it produces construction materials out the other which can then be assembled by labourers. That way you’d be able to reduce the logistical problems of sourcing the materials and shipping them to the site from various locations. Though even that would be full of tradeoffs: you’d be limited in size for components, wouldn’t have access to specialist processes that a factory might be able to make use, and you wouldn’t be able to leverage economy of scale in the same way as a factory might. But if you’re in a situation where you have lots of local resources and no easy way of getting materials there, then maybe it’d be worth it?

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