How 3D Printing May Address the Housing Shortage

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The CEO of ICON construction company has said the U.S. has a deficit of five million new homes compared to demand. Now, as described on its website, ICON is partnering with construction and real estate company Lennar to do something about that deficit. With the experience of building a couple dozen 3D-printed homes in the U.S. and Mexico, ICON is collaborating with Lennar to build the largest neighborhood of 3D-printed homes to date, an indication that new mindsets are disrupting the way houses are built.

Image: ICON/Lennar

The 100-home 3D-printed community is planned for the Austin, Texas area. The first home, “House Zero,” has been completed, with tours taking place on March 13-14, 2022. CNN.com/style reported that the structure of each energy-efficient ranch-style home will take about a week to print/construct, with solar roofs, windows, doors, and finishes added afterward. ICON describes the homes as sustainable, resilient and comfortable, with up to 3,000 square feet of living space and walls made of a proprietary “lavacrete,” insulation and steel.

Image: ICON, Casey Dunn

An Industrial Equipment News (IEN) report  describes 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, as faster, cheaper and more sustainable than traditional construction. The process uses large industrial, robotic machines to deposit layers of a unique ink (plastic, metal, concrete, or other materials) atop one another to produce objects from the bottom up.

Since the 1980s, 3D printers have been used mostly to create small quantities of specialized items like car parts, which IEN characterized as “pet projects.” However, according to a makerbot.com blog article, automating housing construction with 3D printers is anticipated to be one of the top upcoming uses for 3D printing, in addition to medicine, education, prototyping and manufacturing, and art and jewelry.

Image: Regan Morton Photography, published by ICON via AP

The advantages for the housing sector include enabling more complex and accurate structures, faster construction, lower labor costs, and less waste in the form of scrap wood, metal and other discarded construction materials. Manufacturing Business Technology describes it as opening up the possibility of designs that were previously unmanufacturable.

ICON leadership has expressed hope that other builders, architects, developers, and homeowners will be inspired to embrace 3D-printed housing so it can progress beyond a niche market.

Image: Mighty Buildings 3D-printed housing module; pictured in Additive Manufacturing News

A notable benefit of 3D printing in construction is the reduction in the need for human labor, an important consideration as companies struggle to find enough skilled workers to meet the housing demand.

The labor shortage reflects the “perfect storm” of baby-boomers retiring, while fewer people overall are entering the construction industry. ICON says its 3D printing system can do the work of ten to twenty workers in up to six different trades. In addition, machines can work up to 24 hours a day, saving developers time and money. Not to worry about those robotic machines replacing humans: people will still be needed to program and operate the robotic machines and also deliver and install homes.


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