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A Chinese company is printing out tower blocks

As a technology, 3D printing is a bit like Google Glass: it’s there, and we can see there might be uses for it, but it’s not that clear how revolutionary it’s actually going to be. But over the past year, the ability to print objects in any shape you like is looking more and more appealling, especially as 3D printers manage to produce bigger and bigger stuff.

Such as, say, entire houses. 

In a press conference this weekend, the Shanghai-based Winsun Design Decoration Engineering company (catchy) unveiled prototypes of five-storey tower blocks that they’d whipped up on their in-house 3D printer. The company claims the resultant homes required less labour, created less waste and noise, and took a little over half the time of a tower built with traditional techniques. 

They also showed off a 12,000 square foot “villa”, which bears a passing resemblance to the Barbie Dream Mansion, and cost around £100,000 to build: 

Considering that the only comparable 3D printing building project worldwide is the slow-moving Amsterdam Canalhouse, this is all pretty impressive. It helps, though, that Winsun owns what’s probably the world’s largest 3D printer: it’s 20 feet tall, 33 feet wide and 132 feet long.

The printer uses a range of materials, including a blend of recycled building materials, reinforced concrete, and something delightfully called “Crazy Magic Stone”. The relevant piece is printed out using a moving nozzle, which adds layers one at a time. Overall, it’s a bit llike a robot icing a cake:

Once the component parts are printed, they’re assembled to form the finished building:

Some of the company’s products – yes, we mean the mansion – are a bit outlandish, and will presumably be bought mainly for their novelty factor. But last year, Winsun also hit headlines with claims it could print 10 one storey, low-cost houses in a single day for as little as £3,000, which, frankly, sounds far more useful. The potential to create quick, cheap housing after disasters, or in low-income areas, is where 3D printing could really come into its own. 

Images: Winsun.
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