Mayor Steve Adler with ICON Cofounder Evan Loomis at ICON’s headquarters for an event to unveil its newest large-scale 3D printer, Vulcan II which can be used to create affordable homes
Austin-based ICON on Monday unveiled its new “Vulcan II” 3D printer that can print up to a 2,000 square foot house quickly at half the cost.
“It’s four times as big, it’s twice as fast, and it’s going to start shipping to customers next month,” said Jason Ballard, CEO and Co-founder of ICON. “This is not science fiction, it’s science fact. The world you all have been waiting for is about to arrive.”
ICON has also created proprietary concrete/mortar material which it calls “Lavacrete” that has passed every structural test and is safe for people and resilient to the varieties of conditions it may encounter, according to the company.
“Our most significant challenge in this city is affordability, we are losing community,” said Mayor Steve Adler at an event along with a few hundred invited guests Monday at ICON’s Warehouse headquarters at 444 E. St. Elmo Road in South Austin to show off the new printer.
A median priced home in San Francisco right now is more than $1.5 million, Adler said. A median priced home in Boston and Seattle, other major tech centers, are seeing median home prices north of $800,000, he said
“Austin is a city that creates art,” Adler said. “We create art because we are a diverse and creative community.”
Jason Ballard, Co-Founder of ICON talking about how its technology will help with the housing crisis
Creativity comes from the melding of all different kinds of people living together in the city, Adler said. Austin doesn’t want to become a city that just consumes art because its artists can no longer afford to live here, he said.
ICON’s technology helps Austin solve one of its most vexing problems of how to make houses cost less, and build them quicker, Adler said.
“This is about as Austin a place as South by Southwest,” Adler said.
A global housing crisis exists, and 1.2 billion people worldwide struggle with homeless and can’t afford shelter, Ballard said. ICON’s technology can make housing more affordable, he said.
This technology is scalable, Ballard said.
“I believe in the next couple of years, you will see a 3D printed house with a for sale sign in front of it here in Austin, Texas, for sale for half price,” Ballard said.
And with 3D printing a house, it produces nearly zero waste, he said.
“You print what you need to the drop and then you stop,” he said.
ICON also announced partnerships to put its technology in action to build affordable homes for Austin and other communities.
One of its partnerships is with New Story, a four-year-old nonprofit organization that pioneers affordable housing solutions to end global homelessness. It is using ICON’s technology to create the world’s first 3D printed community beginning this summer, said Brett Hagler, CEO and Co-Founder of New Story.
Another partnership is with Cielo Property Group.
“Our big announcement today that we’ve been holding back, Austin that printer right there that is your printer dedicated to affordable, sustainable, resilient and beautiful housing,” said Bobby Dillard, founder of Cielo Property Group. Austin is the first city in the country to have its own 3D printer focused on creating affordable housing, he said.
3Strands Neighborhoods announced its early partnership with ICON to explore architectural and design concepts that could be delivered by Vulcan II.
Gary O’Dell, CEO of 3 Strands Neighborhoods, said his company builds clusters of houses with shared spaces and programming that builds communities and relationships. It has partnered with Overland Partners, an architecture firm based in San Antonio, to create a design competition for 3D printed houses.
Last year, ICON won the South by Southwest Accelerator pitch competition for its construction technology that builds 3D printed homes using concrete as substrate. ICON also generated a lot of buzz when it built a 3D printed home in East Austin in two days during SXSW using its 3D printer.
That first permitted 3D printed house costs about $10,000 in materials. The 350 square foot house was created as a proof of concept house in partnership with New Story.
ICON closed a $9 million in seed stage round led by Oakhouse Partners last October. It plans to begin building homes in the U.S. and in Latin America this year. Time Magazine named ICON one of the best inventions of 2018. Popular Science named ICON one of the best 100 Greatest Innovations of 2018.
Could 3D-printing technology help make homes more affordable?
With many parts of the country in the throes of a housing affordability crisis, an Texas-based company says it might have part of the answer.
Construction technologies firm Icon this week showed off its next generation 3D printer for homes, Vulcan II, at its warehouse in South Austin.
“We have been hard at work developing the next generation of our technology and are thrilled to unveil the Vulcan II printer today and announce we will begin shipping them next month and actively accepting requests for 2020,” Jason Ballard, Icon’s co-founder and CEO, said in a written statement. The company has about 20 full-time employees and last year raised $9 million in a seed round of financing toward its mission to build affordable housing around the world, faster and cheaper than using traditional methods.
Ballard said Icon’s advanced 3D technology is capable of building homes that are more affordable, and more resilient, than the original 3D printer it debuted last year at the South by Southwest festival. That printer was used to create Icon’s prototype home, a 350-square-foot house on Chicon Street in East Austin. That house was built in 47 hours of total printing time, at a cost of about $10,000.
Ballard said the Vulcan II printer marks a milestone as the company’s technology moves out of the lab and into the real world. This year, Icon and New Story, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, plan to break ground on a community of 3D-printed homes in Latin America.
The New Story project aims to serve families without access to adequate housing. When completed, it is expected to house more than 400 people. The average family in the community is expected to be four people living on less than $200 a month, New Story and Icon officials say.
“It’s our mission at Icon to re-imagine the approach to homebuilding and construction and make affordable, dignified housing available to everyone throughout the world,” Ballard said. “We’re in the middle of a global housing crisis and making old approaches a little better is not solving the problem. The homebuilding industry needs a complete paradigm shift.”
Icon’s printing uses 3D robotics, software and advanced materials with a proprietary concrete mixture called “lavacrete.” Icon says lavacrete has passed every structural test Icon has put it through.
“This means our homes will be safe for people to live in and resilient to the varieties of conditions where we may deploy this technology,” Ballard said.
He said the company aims to make homes at a cost of up to $125 a square foot. The 3D printing has the ability to cut costs of homebuilding by 30-50 percent compared to traditional construction methods, Ballard said.
Icon will begin shipping the Vulcan II to existing partners next month. One is Austin-based developer Cielo Property Group, which has commissioned a printer to be dedicated to the city of Austin to create affordable housing.
“We expect this printer to produce thousands and thousands of affordable homes in Austin,” Cielo co-founder Bobby Dillard said in a written statement. “We will begin printing the first few homes by the end of the year with production speeding up after we get a few under our belt.”
Last year, Cielo committed $1 million to provide more permanent housing for people living on Austin’s streets or in shelters.
Dillard said Cielo saw “the incredible advances Icon was making in the technology to print homes faster and much cheaper than they could be built by traditional construction methods. It just seemed like a great opportunity to commission a printer dedicated to creating affordable housing here in our community.”
With the new printer officially unveiled, Dillard said, “we will begin looking for available sites and print homes wherever the opportunity makes sense. This could include city-owned land, existing affordable housing communities or private land that someone makes available.”
It’s too early to know what the houses will cost because it depends on factors including size, finishes, layout and mechanical systems, Dillard said.
Walter Moreau, executive director of Foundation Communities, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing and on-site social services for low-income residents, said the use of 3D printing likely won’t have much impact on the issue.
“I wish that there was a magic printer that could truly deliver affordable housing, but realistically this technology might only have a tiny impact on the final all-in cost of a home,” Moreau said. “Reducing the cost of the wall construction by one third only ends up being a fraction of the overall cost to build a home. You cannot 3D print the land, utility connections, finishes, fixtures, or construction workers needed for all the specialty trades. You cannot avoid soft development costs like interim taxes and construction financing, even if the construction timeline is a bit shorter.”
Eldon Rude, an Austin-area housing industry expert, said the greatest demand for smaller 3D printed homes will be in urban areas — but it will be difficult to build these units on a large scale in those areas.
“First, land and lot costs represent a big percentage of the cost of building a home in the urban core … and I don’t see that changing,” Rude said. “Secondly, and maybe just as significant, obtaining the necessary zoning and entitlements to build these homes in the city will likely prove challenging, not to mention getting buy-in from the neighborhoods.”
Still, Rude said the technology holds promise.
“There’s certainly no one solution to the affordability issues Austin is currently facing, but revolutionary technologies like this can be an important part of helping meet the challenges we face,” Rude said.
Meeting with Icon Friday and touring the Austin prototype home, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson also expressed optimism.
“HUD is interested in any technology that is going help us with our affordable housing situation, which is why we’ve been so active in removing barriers for manufactured housing,” Carson said.
On Friday, Ballard told the American-Statesman that if “someone like the (HUD) secretary comes out and is enthusiastic, that makes people realize this is not science fiction.”