Behrokh Khoshnevis Heads the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technology at University of Southern California
Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis is the Director of the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT) at the University of Southern California. CRAFT focuses on automated manufacturing from micro- to macro- scales, their largest project being contour crafting.
Contour crafting, is a layered fabrication technology developed by Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, with great potential for automating the construction of whole structures as well as its sub-components. The process of automated construction, using a concrete slurry, can produce a single or colony of houses in a single print. As the structure of being fabricated, the conduits for electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning are accounted for, greatly reducing the fabrication time. There are great applications for emergency, low-income, and commercial housing, and as far-reaching as building habitats on other planets.
AMI: Can you tell me about the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies?
KHOSHNEVIS: It’s a center that is intended to focus on different scales of automated manufacturing basically additive manufacturing all the way from micro to macro to bigger scale focus in either the largest scale printing, using contour crafting.
AMI: Do you interact with private companies?
KHOSHNEVIS: Yes we do. We have had support from private companies and we have ongoing relationships with them.
AMI: What would you see is the biggest technology challenge facing the work that your center is pursuing at the moment?
KHOSHNEVIS: The technology challenge is really more in the material and the field delivery systems. We are working with concrete, a very difficult material. It’s hard to regulate the flow of such material or how to handle it. The nature of the chemical reactions means that we have a limited time to work with the material.
AMI: What kind of things are you printing with this concrete?
AMI: In 3 to 5 years what do you think will be the largest technological challenge your organization faces?
KHOSHNEVIS: The challenge will be in application. I have a NASA project right now, in which we want to build on the moon and Mars, so we have to work with lunar soil and soil in very difficult conditions. For example, working on the moon there is no atmosphere. The more you want, the more challenges you’ll face.
AMI: What do you wish the organizations or companies that interact with you understood better about the nature or constraints of your capabilities?
KHOSHNEVIS: It’s not about building understanding, it’s about building what will be to their benefit. What I would also like is for the organizations to have a higher risk appetite for trying new concepts and putting more resources into them.
AMI: Is there any aspect of the activities of the people that you interact with that you would like to know about, or any particular sector or group of companies?
KHOSHNEVIS: Yes construction companies. I’d like to know more about what their different requirements are.
AMI: There seem to be a number of coordination problems that might be preventing this space from growing more rapidly. Areas in which some kind of group action might be needed to develop some industry standards or share test data or to do other kinds of things that no single organization can do on their own. Would agree with this and if so which area would you like to see some sort of a group or coordinated activity?
KHOSHNEVIS: All of the space projects are very demanding. Certain companies like Space Air have managed to do a lot of things relatively independently although they want to set and extend to NASA. What appears to me from my own project, is that a lot has to go into it to make it happen and it’s not trivial. For example we have to first design and build, then do the real test to simulate the conditions, then we have to put them in a launch rocket from, Space Air, NASA or whoever. Then when it goes there is a whole system of robotics and control. There are many services to support it, which is too much for one organization. It’s more than an ordinary space machine such as a satellite.
AMI: When do you expect to see some of these machines in operation?
KHOSHNEVIS: This project is exploratory at the beginning so if NASA is happy with what I’m doing then there is a future phase. If I were guaranteed to have funds for all the different aspects of this, I would start in 10 years. Before that time you’ll see the machine building landing pads, the roads, the hangars, the basics of an aqueous and lunar launch.
AMI: There has been a lot of talk about intellectual property can be kind of a problem here. Is your company establishing ways of working with these building materials, are you patenting your processes and materials?
KHOSHNEVIS: Yeah, we have spent over a million dollars on patents so far.
AMI: I know people have said sort of reverse engineering things might be often easy in this area. Do you think your patents might get infringed on easily in this area or not?
KHOSHNEVIS: That’s true in the case of every patent, so perhaps they may do it.
AMI: A number of innovations that seem to be getting applied in one part of additive manufacturing or 3D printing often I guess come out of other people or entirely different application. Is there any area of 3D printing that you are particularly interested in because it actually has an analogous problems and solutions that you might benefit from?
KHOSHNEVIS: Yes I’m interested in metallic parts fabrication and ceramic parts fabrication and I have projects in those areas.
AMI: It seems this industry is kind of growing rapidly at the moment. Do you think that will continue to be the case going forward?
KHOSHNEVIS: I think there is a lot of hype about 3D printing now. It might be similar to the early 1950s when numerical control machines CNCs started gaining interest. People were amazed by those then but nobody cares about CNCs now. It doesn't attract that much attention and I think some of the 3D printing hype will die down. I would say the technology will die down, but the CNCs didn't and billions of dollars a year of CNCs are sold. 3D printing it will simply become a part of ordinary engineering practice.