Engineering student develops large 8'x8'x8' concrete 3D printer in his garage
Having led a team of 6 engineers to first place in a semester-long group competition that resulted in a fully-built robotic sorting machine - among other accomplishments - it’s clear that mechanical engineering student Alex Le Roux from Baylor University in Texas isn’t your average engineering student.
More recently, the college senior focused his sight on developing his own extrusion-based 3D printer. The result is a RepRap-based 8' x '8' x 8' 3D concrete printer that’s inspired in-part by the work being done by larger international companies including WinSun, D-Shape and Contour Crafting to create 3D printed structures for housing and other purposes.
"The printer is Version 1 of the machine that will go on to print small houses," Le Roux told us. "A lot of the tough engineering problems were solved with this first printer, for example, and most specifically, the ingredients of the concrete mixture, the extruder design, and the electronics to support such a massive machine. Now it is time to scale up, which is a difficult process, but relatively straightforward in terms of engineering effort."
So far, Le Roux’s 3D Concrete Printer - which is for personal exploration, not a school project - has cost him a hefty $2,500 to build, however it would likely cost significantly less than that to build something similar with a more refined engineering direction based off of his initial efforts. Currently, Le Roux and the small team he’s working with on the project are looking for investors who may be able to help him turn the printer into a commercial product.
"The printer has been self funded so far, which I believed to be weakness at first, but I am now coming to believe that there have and will continue to be benefits of operating on a small budget. For example, we had to keep an extremely narrow focus on what was truly important and avoid engineering rabbit holes." Le Roux explains.
"Layer heights are at approximately .75 cm which may sound large compared to a desktop 3D printer but when we examine a small building structure with that kind of resolution in comes out looking quite amazing and allows for extremely creative and complex designs to be printed."
Of course, while selling a desktop 3D printer that produces small plastic parts is one thing, selling a concrete 3D printer is an entirely different challenge.
Among other things, finding the right consistency for the concrete material itself can be a challenge even for experts - so developing a fail-proof recipe that can be replicated by customers is just as important as developing the printer itself. Additionally, the applications for a concrete-based 3D printer are still limited and aren’t likely to be picked up by casual users anytime soon.
However, when the general public is ready for a concrete 3D printer - which will likely happen sooner rather than later - Le Roux’s design just might be one of the best options. Among other reasons, one of the most optimal ways of integrating additive manufacturing into the building design and construction process is by creating smaller components - such as blocks - rather than single-print structures. In doing so, this gives designers and builders more room to consider integrated systems such as wiring and plumbing - not to mention, a more lightweight system for traveling from site-to-site with.
Although Le Roux hasn’t published much else about his 3D printer project, it’s safe to say that we’re likely to hear more from this young engineering student in the 3D printing community as time goes on. Those interested can stay updated on the project by following his project's Tumblr page.