We love 3D printing for the customization it allows. Printers can be used to make very specific objects that can't be found through mass production and they produce objects right where they will be used, no lengthy transportation necessary.
Researchers have developed 3D printers for metal, sand and even for using recycled plastic filament, but so far if you want to print anything large, you either need a large machine or you have to print out lots of smaller pieces and then assemble them into something larger. Researchers from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) in Barcelona have solved that issue by creating a team of 3D printer robots that can print large structures on-site, free from the confines of a machine.
The IAAC technology can make buildings in one continuous, layer-by-layer process by utilizing a few 3D printer robots working as a team.The robots are called Minibuilders and are 16.5 inches wide or less. Using their own sensors and local positioning systems, each Minibuilder performs its individual role in order using instructions provided by a central computer. A Supplier robot provides liquid building material to each of the Minibuilders as it's needed.
The current prototype of this system uses three Minibuilders. The Foundation robot does just what it sounds like and builds the bottom layers of a structure. It uses tracks to move around and a line-follower sensor to position itself. It adds layers until its height limit is reached. At that point, the Grip robot takes over by attaching itself to the top of the foundation layers and uses its rollers to move around the structure, adding layers for walls and drying them with a built-in heater. The Grip robot is also able to then make ceilings and window and door openings.
Lastly, the Vacuum robot attaches to the structure with a vacuum-operated suction cup and moves up and down the structure adding perpendicular layers to give the structure more strength and stability.
The Minibuilders have already made a demonstration structure at the Design Museum of Barcelona, but the technology could move beyond the museum soon enough.