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Caterpillar, a manufacturer of construction equipment, recently started to support research on technology that has the potential to one day be able to build full-scale houses in hours. The Contour Crafting automated construction system, created by Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, is a larger version of the rapid-prototyping machines used in industry to essentially print out three-dimensional objects designed with CAD/CAM software. Such systems usually accomplish the task by building up successive layers of plastic.
“Instead of plastic, Contour Crafting will use concrete,” says Khoshnevis, who holds several patents in rapid-prototyping technology. The system deposits a special concrete formulation that recently underwent trial in the automated fabrication of six-foot concrete walls.

Everett Brandt, an engineer in Caterpillar's Technology & Solutions div., says Caterpillar will be a major contributor to upcoming work on the project, which includes research into process and material engineering and relating various process parameters and material characteristics to the performance of the specimens to be produced. Future phases of the project are expected to include issues with geometric design, research in deployable robotics and material delivery methods, automated plumbing and electrical-network installation, and automated inspection and quality control.

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