Breaking Ground on 3D Printed Homes

ICON teams up with leading home builder to 3D print efficient and affordable homes in the Austin, Texas, area.

ICON teams up with leading home builder to 3D print efficient and affordable homes in the Austin, Texas, area.

ICON’s 3D printing technology will produce resilient, energy-efficient homes with precision and speed. Image courtesy of ICON.

Home ownership is a life goal for most American families, but the skyrocketing cost of real estate has kept the dream out of reach for many.

ICON, an upstart pioneering large-scale 3D printing, is on a mission to help families inch closer to that goal with its pilot efforts to 3D print affordable housing. Now, the company is accelerating its agenda with a partnership and financing round from Lennar, one of the nation’s leading home builders, to build an entire community of 3D printed homes in the Austin, Texas, area, with ground breaking slated for 2022.

The 100-home community, to be co-designed by architecture firm, BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, is being touted as an innovative approach to home building and a potential solution to some of home-building’s key challenges: Labor and material shortages. Officials from Lennar's LENX investment arm are convinced that 3D printing technology can create more resilient, energy-efficient homes faster than conventional construction methods, with less waste and more design freedom, all while making home ownership more affordable to American families.

Key to the initiative is ICON’s Vulcan construction system, built from the ground up for volume 3D printing of homes with precision and speed. The large-scale construction 3D printer uses robotic construction methods to print homes and structures of up to 3,000 square feet. The system has also been built to be digitally native, with a tablet-based operating system that lets construction crew operators control every aspect of print operations via an intuitive user interface. Another ICON differentiator is Magma, an end-to-end automated material delivery system for use in 3D printed construction, which feeds Vulcan printers the company’s proprietary Lavacrete advanced material.

Homes built with Vulcan meet the International Building Code (IBC) structural code standard and are expected to last longer than standard Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU) homes. The resulting structures are designed to withstand extreme weather, reduce the impact of natural disasters, and be printed at high speeds and at scale, according to ICON officials.

“Construction-scale 3D printing not only delivers higher-quality homes faster and more affordably, but fleets of printers can change the way that entire communities are built for the better,” said ICON co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard, in a press release. “The United States faces a deficit of approximately 5 million new homes, so there is a profound need to swiftly increase supply without compromising quality, beauty, or sustainability and that is exactly the strength of our technology.”

ICON competitor Mighty Buildings is also ramping up efforts to unleash 3D printing to tackle the global housing and climate crisis. The San Francisco-based company takes a different approach: Instead of 3D printing the buildings onsite, it produces modular panels in a factory and then assembles the building on-site. Mighty Building’s technology is being used in the constructure of an eco-friendly 3D printed home community in Rancho Mirage, California, near Palm Springs. Guidehouse Industries, a market researcher following this market, says 3D printing in the construction sector is at a tipping point as companies move beyond pilots and demonstration projects.

ICON isn’t just pushing the envelope when it comes to building 3D printed homes on Earth. The company’s Vulcan construction system is also being tapped to build a 1,700 square foot habitat which will reside at NASA’s Johnson Space Center as part of program to simulate a long-duration stay on Mars.

This video provides a look at ICON’s preliminary efforts to 3D print homes in Austin.

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Beth Stackpole's avatar
Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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