3D Print a House

January 24, 2007 · Posted in abundance, economics, innovation, sharing 

There are so many elements to this article that I need to break it up into a series.
Just last month on the Interactive Technology radio program I mentioned 3D printers that can manufacture things on demand. I also pointed out that China needs houses and the Detroit auto industry needs new markets and suggested Detroit pre-fabricate houses for China.

Now I find an instance of the 3D printer designed to make buildings.

And I find someone making a 3D printer to make more 3D printers.

And you can make your own 3D printer for $2400. And this is their project Wiki for the open source 3D printer.

I am very excited by the development of 3D printer technology. This makes new innovation easier and quicker. The open source 3D printer makes this technology available to more people and empowers them to be innovators. More people with access to this technology mean more perspectives on innovation leading to more, better and faster innovation.

And this new technology that is moving 3D printers past prototyping and into manufacturing changes work from physical labor to mental. Design is now the only work needed.

“Khoshnevis believes his contour crafter will revolutionize building construction, dragging it into the digital age. Today, despite the advent of tech tools like power saws, mechanized cranes, and pneumatic nailers, construction is essentially the same tiring, gritty job it has been for 20,000 years. Workers still have to cut, grasp, hoist, place, and fasten materials, which is why labor accounts for about half of a building’s cost. The process is dangerous, slow, and wasteful: More than 400,000 American construction workers are injured each year, and a typical American house takes at least six months to complete, generating about four tons of waste.”

Everything he says is absolutely true. Unfortunately the entire structure of the industrialized economy depends on people working to get paid. If people don’t need to work then they won’t get paid. That is very bad. This doesn’t mean this type of technology won’t catch on and it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t catch on. It does mean huge disruption. Disruptions of this type typically are resisted with violence and that harms everyone. I hope to spread the ideas that I discovered to make these innovations a win-win-win.

In the Detroit area a lot of people have been laid off from manufacturing jobs. These people tend to move into the building trades. Even though trades like plumber, electrician and general contractor require a license to do professionally, there is an exception for home owners to get permits or perform some work without a permit. So a lot of unlicensed but semi-skilled people are doing the work while the home owners are either getting the permits or skipping permits altogether.

The unlicensed people are driving down the prices for construction trades. This is helpful for home owners because it provides more options. Home owners can hire a licensed professional, do it themselves or hire unlicensed people. Each approach has different benefits but they all share one thing in common, human labor.

The home owner hires someone for two reasons. The home owner lacks the skill or doesn’t want to do the work. With this new robotic technology both needs can be satisfied for an order of magnitude less cost. And the end result will be much higher quality. This is fabulous for home owners, but it’s terrible for laborers.

Robots working should be a good thing. Just as Khoshnevis points out, construction is dangerous and physically demanding. But not only that it’s the most strenuous and dangerous jobs that pay the least. This is exactly the type of thing we want machines to do. But the problem is where all those people will find work if those jobs are gone.

The main thing these 3D printing tools do is eliminate the manual labor of manufacturing and assembly. We will still need people to design things to make, operate the 3D printers, repair the 3D printers and supply them with raw materials. This technology will make mass customization incredibly affordable, practically free. That means that HUGE markets will open up. The unindustrialized areas of the world will suddenly be able to afford things they never could before.
Additionally, more people will be able to design and either prototype or even manufacture. This will cause an exponential increase in new designs and new products. And it will bring on wide spread mass customization which gives you exactly what you want with little or no waste. This isn’t just less expensive in terms of money but less expensive in terms of all resources.

Want something? Download a design, fill your personal 3D printer with the raw ingredients and press the print button. Or better yet, design exactly what you want customized in every way. Use 3D scanning technology to get a perfect fit. And since the 3D printer is working with raw materials, when you don’t want what you made just recycle it to be made into something new.

The technology moves physical goods into the same Abundance model of information. That brings all the positive aspects and the same needs for changes in business models that file copying made evident.