Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »
New View on Sustainability: 3D Printed Housing for Underserved Populations
April 6th, 2018 by Susan Smith
In a day and age where affordable housing is at a premium, along comes the company ICON, a construction technologies company with the primary goal of revolutionizing homebuilding. How do they propose to do that?
In such a way that you might not first imagine: using proprietary 3D printing technologies and cutting-edge materials. The end result provides sustainable solutions to address one of the world’s most dire issues – that of homelessness across the globe and the rising cost of home ownership in the U.S. and abroad. It also addresses issues of sustainability, resiliency and building performance of existing construction methods. Looking further into the future, ICON takes on the challenge of building off-planet space habitats.
ICON is a for-profit construction technologies company using robotics, software, and advanced materials to reinvent the homebuilding industry. The 3D printer dubbed the “Vulcan I” is the first product/project and was developed in collaboration with New Story, the non-profit bringing homes to underserved populations. Together they have 3D printed the first site-printed, permitted permanent 3D printed house in America. It is truly the first of its kind.
And then, of course, how much does it cost to 3D print a house? Created in partnership with the non-profit New Story, the first permitted 3D printed house was built for $10,000 (the printed portion only) in Austin, TX, which has some of the toughest building codes. The home is 350 square feet and serves as a proof-of-concept home created in -48 hours of actual printing time.
New Story’s goal is to print a community of homes in El Salvador in the coming 18 months with each home being around 600-800 square feet, printed in less than 24 hours and cost $4,000 per home.
According to New Story, 133 Million people live in slums in Latin America. Globally, 1.3 billion people live in slums. That’s 14% of the world population, and growing. New Story is focused on impacting those 1.3 billion in slums by providing safe housing.
The majority of these families live on less than $2 per day. The countries in question – Haiti, Bolivia, El Salvador and Mexico – have no support systems for homeless families, such as homeless shelters.
The Vulcan I was able to deliver the first house running at roughly 25% speed in less than 48 hours. The Vulcan II is being worked on currently and should be able to print a standard house in under 24 hours which is the company’s goal.
ICON’s goal is that you will be able to download and print your own home in 24 hours. Beginning in 2019, ICON plans to begin printing homes in the U.S.
ICON plans to move into the Austin space for their offices over the next few months. The company is not yet working with individuals but encourages interested people to keep track of their progress.
Once completed, ICON’s partners at Alchemy Builders constructed the finishing touches including the roof, windows, doors and electrical/plumbing with conventional methods for the Austin home.
To demonstrate that ICON is considering no boundaries, they are looking into the advantages of putting 3D printing into space, where they can make use of local materials.
They are also researching printing technologies for off-planet space habitats. Co-founder, Jason Ballard, will be speaking on the subject at Silicon Valley Comic Con April 7, 2018 in San Jose.
Research and development has been gestating over the past two years, with the Vulcan printer and material formulation coming about in the last nine months.
Jason Ballard, co-founder of ICON; co-founder and president of TreeHouse, a company whose mission revolves around sustainability ad the heath of the built environment, believed there was a better way to build homes that was more affordable, made better use of resources, and was more energy efficient than conventional building methods. That began a long study and research project including prefab, insulated concrete forms, SIP panels, advanced framing, robotic bricklaying architectural fungus, etc.) that led to Ballard finding 3D printing. Together with TreeHouse co-fonder and friend Evan Loomis, he began to work on a prototype in an Austin warehouse on the weekends. Alex LeRoux, a new college grad and engineer, was working on a similar project in Houston, after hearing about one another, LeRoux and Ballard met at TreeHouse and that began their collaboration.
ICON’s leadership team includes:
Alex Le Roux, co-founder and CEO
Jason Ballard, co-founder of ICON; co-founder and president of TreeHouse
Evan Loomis, co-founder of ICON; co-founder Saturn Five
The Austin building was printed during Austin’s terrible rainstorms. Because the city had never seen a building of this kind before, most housing code adjustments were to structural engineering and foundation adjustments.
Known as the “Vulcan”, the printer is the first of ICON’s construction technologies to be unveiled in partnership with New Story, and was designed specifically for the developing world. The mobile printer fully prints on-site and does not require printing in an off-site location nor does it need to stitch together different portions. The Vulcan I is a gantry-style printer on rails. ICON has several patents pending on both the hardware and materials. The printer is the largest in the world. With an axis set upon a track, the printer theoretically has an unlimited print area. The entire Austin home is printed seamlessly and is sustainable, produces nearly zero waste and is highly durable, low maintenance, and energy-efficient to operate.
Conventional construction is slow, fragmented, wasteful, and has poor thermal properties which increase energy use, increase operating costs, and decrease comfort. Also, conventional materials like drywall and particle board are some of the least resilient materials ever invented. By contrast, 3D printing offers the following:
The capabilities of the 3D printer in terms of complexity of design, size, speed include:
Size: 20 ft X 11 ft X *infinite length* of build volume since the printer is set on tracks
Speed: The printer will be able to print a single-story, 600-800 square foot home in less than 24 hours for $4,000.
Design: Nearly any 2D floor plan imaginable can be printed.
The printer uses a proprietary small-aggregate cementitious material (also known as a mortar). Since the mix has relatively easy to find constituent parts, ICON expects to be able to find materials locally.
This first printer developed specifically for the developing world is meant to be mobile and weighs around 2,000 lbs. The code that the printer needs to print is called gcode. Then the portion of the printer where material is fed is called the “hopper” and has a level detecting switch to measure how full the container is of the material to add/adjust as necessary.
This is the first project developed between ICON and New Story and here is the timeline for their collaboration, according to company materials:
New Story’s CEO, Brett Hagler got together with ICON co-founders Jason Ballard and Evan Loomis in 2017, and realized they had complementary visions of how to transform a basic human need: shelter.
New Story was looking for an innovation that could bring more homes to more families, faster than ever. ICON was developing the construction technologies and 3D printer that could address the specific challenges of building in developing countries. About 8 months later, the first permitted, 3D printed home was unveiled in Austin, TX and is the proof-of-concept they needed to move into their second phase: taking the mobile 3D printer into El Salvador to print the first community of homes for those in need.
The printed homes are expected to last as long or longer than standard Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU) built homes. The homes are built to the International Building Code (IBC) structural code standard. The printers are designed to work under the constraints common places like Haiti and rural El Salvador where power can be unpredictable, potable water is not a guarantee, and technical assistance is sparse. Building the printer to not rely on these items was crucial to bet on the reliability of the printer in the field.
Those families who receive a home through the New Story program then own their own home and are responsible for its upkeep. The homes are simple, so maintenance costs are minimal.
New Story currently provides approximately 4 jobs per home using traditional construction. It is currently estimated that the printer will reduce the number of jobs but local labor will still be required for aspects of communities such as using locally sourced materials.
New Story and ICON will be taking the printer to the field in the coming 18 months and begin in El Salvador. Cost, quality, and efficiency once the printer is in country will determine the roll-out plans for 2019 and beyond. After the printing and safety tests are completed, families will most likely move in Q2 or Q3 of 2019.
Categories: 3D printing, AEC, AEC training, AECCafe, apps, architecture, Architecture 2030, Cloud, collaboration, construction, field, field solutions, greenhouse gas emissions, IFC, mobile printing, project management, site planning, sustainable design, terrain, visualization