Back in April, I visited Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for a presentation on “Additive Manufacturing,” also known as 3-D printing. ORNL was proudly showing off its newest 3-D printing machine featuring a bed big enough to print a small house – and guess what? They did.

3-D printing is not new and has been used for prototyping for many years. But advancements are revealing new (almost unbelievable) uses for the technology.

In January the DOE’s EERE Buildings, Fuel Cell and Advanced Manufacturing Offices and ORNL scored major media attention when they displayed a 3-D-printed Shelby Cobra at the Detroit Auto Show.  Then, just nine months later, the house known as AMIE (short for Additive Manufacturing and Integrated Energy) was born from the same collaboration.

During my ORNL visit, I was amazed as we witnessed examples of building components that had been 3-D-printed. They also showed off the unique capability to print around highly insulating materials, such as vacuum-insulated panels, which showed up in the AMIE home. While 3-D printing capabilities such as this are increasing, the cost seems to be decreasing.

In fact, 3-D printing technology is moving from the design bench to the manufacturing floor in some applications as a cost-effective alternative. One example ORNL cited is certain aircraft parts that were almost cost-prohibitive to mass-produce are now being 3-D-printed at a fraction of the cost.

Now that’s progress.

The View from Here is that the DOE continues to push the envelope for new technology in building materials and components – and the possibilities seem endless. While it is unlikely that an AMIE-like house will replace conventional residential homes any time soon, the technology to print one-off building components is real.

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