Sure, you can 3-D print key chains, belt buckles, smartphone cases and any number of other consumer goods. But why stop there? If you had a printer large enough, why not 3-D print something really awesome? Say, a house?
Sound outrageous? To a group of architects in Amsterdam, it's a vision of the future. And that future might become a reality sooner than you think.
Hedwig Heinsman, an architect with the Dutch firm Dus, is heading up an experiment called Canal House. As you might imagine, the goal is to 3-D print an entire house.
Heinsman and her team have created a massive 3-D printer called the Kamermaker, or "room-builder." Essentially, it is a scaled-up version of the popular Ultimaker open-source 3-D printer, the team says. It takes the contraption about a week to print each honeycomb-like block -- each weighing about 400 pounds.
"We can recycle waste materials into printable materials, eliminate large transport costs and make unique and personalized architecture," Heinsman says. "You can print buildings, and then just [tear them down], and then print them anew."
Once each block is printed, they are fitted together, sort of like Legos, then filled with a foam-like material that hardens and fastens the blocks together. Pretty neat.
In a city known for its luxurious canal houses and charming gabled facades, a plastic, 3-D-printed house is sure to stand out. The construction site has already been transformed into an exhibit that's open to the public.
Could this be the future of housing construction? Turns out, the brilliant minds in Amsterdam aren't the only ones dreaming up ways to 3-D print an entire house. A team at the University of Southern California has built a giant 3-D printer of its own -- except this one comes equipped with a nozzle that spits out concrete. Its creators say it might be able to create a 2,500-square-foot home in about 24 hours.
This process is called "contour crafting." This video shows a bit more about how it works: