Image credit: Mighty Buildings
The extensive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, from rural communities to high density urban cores from coast to coast, have underscored the nation’s most pervasive issues including the affordable housing crisis. Hundreds of thousands of individuals have lost their jobs due to financial challenges and unemployment. This situation has led to an even greater need for cities to provide affordable housing units and shelter for at-risk populations.
Specifically in the San Francisco Bay Area, the size of the homeless population has skyrocketed during the pandemic. In response, city agencies are turning to technological solutions. For example, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf made it her mission to build at least 17,000 market-rate and affordable housing units by 2024. To achieve that goal, the mayor convened housing experts and community members to find innovative ways to address housing affordability. The search for solutions led city leaders to a local technology company, Mighty Buildings, to provide the foundational materials for new affordable housing units in Oakland.
Printing a Foundation for Affordable Housing
Founded in 2017, Mighty Buildings specializes in creating 3D printed homes and small Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). Using design automation and 3D printing technology, Mighty Buildings can produce new homes that utilize more cost-effective and less time-intensive production processes than traditional housing construction methods. The Mighty Buildings methods are also more environmentally sustainable than traditional construction.
Image credit: Mighty Buildings
Using more automation, Mighty Buildings produces 3D-printed homes that are sold on the market on average for $115,00 for a studio and $285,000 for a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom home. According to Mighty Buildings, that selling point is typically 40 percent less than the cost of site-built units of similar quality.
The company uses a production-as-a-service model of construction, where independent work cells are combined to form a custom manufacturing process meeting product requirements. The first pilot production facility with Mighty Buildings’ Production-as-a-Service platform is in Oakland. According to the company, the model allows partners to lower labor costs and reduce waste while producing complex buildings/building components faster and more accurately than with traditional construction technology.
Mighty Building uses 3D printers for creating primary structural elements, particularly walls, ceilings, and overhangs for small housing units that can also fit in a typical backyard. Mighty Buildings uses a 20-foot tall 3D printer, the Big-G, which can output at speeds of 120 millimeters per second.
Mighty Buildings has already received certification through the California Factory Built Housing program for its automated 3D printed housing approach. It is also the first company to have been granted a certification under UL 3401 for evaluating 3D printed building structures and assemblies.
A Hard Core Composite
The company’s 3D printers use a thermoset composite, known as Light Stone Material (LSM), that hardens when employees expose the material to UV light. This material is first of its kind for 3D printed home construction materials, as it is also energy efficient and structurally sound. LSM uses UV-curing to harden nearly immediately, enabling builders to more rapidly create the entire shell of the house, incorporating ceilings, overhangs, walls, and floors.
Mighty Buildings can create the structure and curved shell of a 350-square-foot studio in 24 hours. In comparison, traditional 3D printing processes entail the use of concrete and a significantly higher amount of time for workers to install load-bearing walls and insulation, due to concrete’s thermal conductive properties. Mighty Building’s 3D-printed units can be produced with 95 percent fewer labor hours in addition to producing 10 times less waste.
Scalable for a range of budgets and lifestyles, Mighty Buildings housing units are part of a broader movement across the globe to use 3D home printing as an affordable construction option. These solutions capitalize on the unique benefits of new technological innovations that have created a production market for more financially and environmentally sustainable housing projects.
Recent technological innovations that have also used the 3D printing process for housing units include the tablet-operated robotic printers from ICON in Austin, TX. Numerous other companies around the globe are also paving the way in this new field of construction automation.