Image credit: Icon Technology
A technology trifecta of 3D printing, robotics, and automation software will converge in the suburbs of Austin, TX, in 2022, as a trio of partners blend their skill sets and expertise to build 100 new homes with a composite material called Lavacrete.
Lennar Corp., a Miami-based home builder active in 23 states, is working with Icon Technology Inc., in Austin and its large-scale 3D printing technology. Danish architecture firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group will co-design the printed homes, the companies announced in a statement. Lennar and BIG are both investors in Icon.
The Austin development will be the largest community of 3D-printed homes to date, according to the companies. Using Icon’s 3D printing technology, the new energy-efficient homes can be built faster than conventional construction methods, creating less waste and giving builders more options from a design perspective, the company claims.
The Robotic Construction Crew
Icon’s Vulcan 3D printers stand more than 11 feet tall and can print 8-foot walls for structures up to 3,000 square feet. The robotics include a modular support system that guides a Lavacrete-emitting nozzle around the construction site area. A proprietary material, Lavacrete can be customized with different densities and is designed to be extruded without slumping. It hardens quickly, speeding construction along.
The Vulcan printer can build a 500 square-foot house in about 24 hours, spread over multiple days. The company has printed three homes at a time, simultaneously, in Austin, and two at a time in Mexico, which further increases the speed in which they can deliver homes.
Craig Le Clair, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester, likes the Lennar-Icon-BIG concept and pointed to its potential to help build sustainable, low-cost housing. “Automation can help augment work that's done by first-line service workers, and 3D printing falls into that category," says Le Clair, author of the AI book, Invisible Robots in the Quiet of the Night.
Faster Construction, Less Waste
He also points out two other benefits to automating the construction process: Better precision and less waste. "With construction, there's also a lot of re-doing of work--having to punch new holes and patch the old ones, for example," Le Clair explains. "With 3D printing, you're going to put holes in perfect places and have fewer errors, and also reduce the number of construction workers needed."
The efficiencies don't stop there, as 3D printing helps to reduce the amount of construction waste that ends up in landfill. As much as 10 percent of materials wasted is usually "an understated amount," Le Clair adds. "By using analytics and other technologies, you can save on materials waste."
3D printing helps keep quality homes affordable while pushing the bounds of innovation, according to Eric Feder, president of Lennar subsidiary LENX. “Lennar has always expanded the boundaries of technological innovation to keep quality homes affordable, and 3D printing is an immensely encouraging approach,” he adds.
And not a moment too soon, since the US is up against a deficit of approximately 5 million new homes. "There is a profound need to swiftly increase supply without compromising quality, beauty, or sustainability," says Icon co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard.
Image credit: Icon Technology
Single Story, Sustainable Solution
One limitation to Icon technology is that Lavacrete can only be used for single-story homes. Conventional building technology must be used for subsequent floors, due to load-bearing challenges. "The current technology is focused on single-story structures," Icon says. "We look forward to future advancements and delivering multi-story projects."
"The sweet spot for this is for sustainable, affordable housing that can help with the shortage of housing," Forrester's Le Clair says. "It's not so much disruptive, as it is an opportunity to build efficient, affordable housing."