By Alec | 3Ders
When thinking of 3D printing, hundreds upon hundreds of leaking shanties with corrugated iron roofing don't automatically come to mind. However, an ambitious and noble project from a team of Harvard graduates is arguing the exact opposite. Perhaps the third world is exactly where we need to take 3D printing technology.
Their project is called Resilient Modular Systems, and in a nutshell, it seeks to provide 3D printed alternatives for the corrugated iron roofing that prevails throughout much of the third world. For many of these houses are barely inhabitable; the iron roofs tend to rust and leak, while they tend to heat up like an oven when the sun is on it. Finally, insulation is not a word that has ever been associated with them; air, water, cold and heat just pass right through these shanties.
The team behind Resilient Modular Systems has come up with two solutions to this terrible problem. First, they are developing new types of materials to be used for construction these homes, all of which rely on recycled, 3D printed plastic, which can typically be found everywhere in these countries. Secondly, they've developed a clever construction system that removes the need for endless nails and screws, instead relying on a clicking system that is perhaps best compared to that of LEGOs.
And this approach is already making headlines everywhere. They have recently been awarded the 1st Runner-Up prize in the inaugural Dean's Design Challenge 2014, while also winning 1 of 5 Editor's Choice Awards at this year's World Maker Faire in New York. The Resilient Modular Systems concept is also one of the finalists at the Place by Design Competition. Meanwhile, they are also working to file various patterns that will allow them to bring their intriguing approach to those who need it.
The Resilient Modular Systems is lead by Wendy Fok, an architect and assistant professor at the University of Houston, and an expert on bioplastics. As she explained, their company is all about brining innovative technology and products to emerging markets in the third world. To do that effectively and sustainably, the focus needs to be on 'modular components made of composite materials from readily available locally sourced resources–like bamboo, for example. We picked the word resilient, which means renewable, recyclable, sustainable and also durable.'
And what is more practical than roofing and brick building? 'We're exploring low-knowledge on-site construction, so it's easier for unskilled workers to use. We wanted to go beyond green technology to even expedited decomposition if needed for temporary structures. It would be useful for disaster rebuilding because people can just pick it up and use it for themselves.'
For their pilot project in the Dominican Republic, they are currently exploring the resources of local production methods, and have come up with two 3D printed prototype products made from recycled plastic: A four by four feet plastic slab, and a smaller, easy to use brick that can be used to fill holes and make repairs.
Cleverly, each of these 3D printed products has been designed to be interchangeable and to fit together from different directions, enabling ad hoc repairs and modifications. And they're durable and sturdy too; a room of 12 by 12 feet can easily be constructed with these parts without needing support structures.
Furthermore, they intend to construct these parts on site, or at least in the countries themselves, rather than shipping them from China or other far off countries. 'We didn't want to manufacture overseas because it adds time and uses energy resources. If there's a local factory that can pump out these things, we distribute them locally, and the radius of production and distribution is reduced. When you're shipping across the ocean, there's risk and you're not helping local manufacturing.' This way, local businesses can also start up and profit.
'Eventually we’re looking at South and Southeast Asia because we see that there are storms and informal settlements in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand that need help.' said Fok.
Obviously, these 3D prints are prototypes for now. The RMS-team is currently looking into constructing a 3D printing kit that can be used by locals to produce smaller bricks. To realize this, talks are underway with the South Caroline-based 3D Systems. The larger slab will likely have to be made using injection molding technology. For this, talks are also underway with local businesses like Un Techo Para Mi Pais, a volunteer housing organization in Central America.
Of course, all this will require a significant investment in manufacturing technology, and the team behind Resilient Modular Systems hopes that their pilot in the Dominican Republic can induce investors and development funds to make an $250,000 investment in their plans.
While 3D printed shanty homes are thus still a long way away, concepts like that of Resilient Modular Systems really shows how 3D printing technology can really impact the lives of the needy and suffering throughout the world. 'Eventually we're looking at South and Southeast Asia because we see that there are storms and informal settlements in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand that need help.' Let's hope this noble initiative can actually reach those people.
Also take a look at this brief YouTube clip about this inspiring project:
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