How an 11-foot-tall 3D printer helps build community



Square feet

Three-dimensional printing can create almost any object. A partnership in Mexico puts this theory to the test, building a village for residents living in poverty.

Pedro García Hernández, 48, is a carpenter in Tabasco state in southeastern Mexico, an area of ​​the country surrounded by tropical forests where around half of the people live below the poverty line.

He makes a living earning about 2,500 pesos ($ 125.17) per month in a small workspace inside the house he shares with his wife, Patrona, and their daughter, Yareli. The house has dirt floors and during Tabasco’s long rainy season it is prone to flooding. Dust from his construction projects covers almost everything in the house, clinging to bedroom walls, pump toilets, and counters in his makeshift kitchen.

But that will change soon. In a few months, Mr. Hernández and his family will be moving to a new home on the outskirts of Nacajuca, Mexico: a sleek 500-square-foot building with two bedrooms, a finished kitchen and bathroom, and interior plumbing. What’s most unusual about the house is that it was made with an 11-foot-tall three-dimensional printer.

A manufacturing process that builds objects layer by layer from a digital file, 3D printing is designed for explosive growth. After a boom linked to the pandemic printing of objects such as test swabs, protective gear and respirator parts, the 3D printing market is expected to reach $ 55.8 billion by 2027 , according to Smithers, a technology consulting firm.

Almost all objects can be 3D printed; in construction, it uses concrete, foam and polymers to produce large-scale buildings. The real estate industry is adjusting to the trend: Construction company SQ4D listed a 3D printed house in Riverhead, New York this year for $ 299,000. It was billed as the first 3D printed house for sale in the United States, but was preceded by similar projects in France, Germany and the Netherlands.

And now, the era of the 3D printed community has arrived. Mr. Hernández’s home is one of 500 homes built by New Story, a San Francisco-based nonprofit focused on providing housing solutions to communities living in extreme poverty, in partnership with Échale, a social housing production in Mexico; and Icon, a construction technology company in Austin, Texas.

When New Story opened the village in 2019, it was called the world’s first community of 3D printed homes. Two years and a pandemic later, 200 homes are under construction or have been completed, 10 of which were printed on site by Icon’s Vulcan II printer. Plans for roads, a football field, a school, a market and a library are underway.

Single-family homes are a good testing ground for the durability of 3D printed construction because they are small and offer a repetitive design process without too much height, said Henry D’Esposito, who leads construction research at JLL, a commercial real estate company. . They can also be built to tolerate natural disasters: Nacajuca is in an earthquake-prone area, and houses there have already withstood a magnitude 7.4 earthquake.

The technology is promising, but some investors remain wary and are closely watching the emergence of 3D housing clusters.

In March, Palari Homes and construction company Mighty Buildings announced a planned $ 15 million community of more than a dozen 3D printed homes in Rancho Mirage, California. The community has a waiting list of over 1,000.

That same month, Icon announced that it had partnered with developer 3Strands and DEN Property Group on four 3D printed homes in Austin, priced at $ 450,000 to $ 795,000. Icon also printed homes in Community First Village in Austin, a project of the nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes that provides permanent housing for homeless men and women.

The 3D printing market grew 21% last year, and Hubs, a manufacturing platform, predicts it will double in size over the next five years.

“It’s really a very effective and efficient way to build a small segment of properties, but it’s not something that applies to the entire broader commercial real estate ecosystem,” said Mr. D’Esposito. “We don’t know exactly how these buildings will perform over the decades or what the long-term value retention will be for them. So if you’re talking to an investor or a lender that’s a big yellow flag.

In Nacajuca, building a house with Icon’s Vulcan II printer looks a lot like a huge soft-serve ice cream cone: layers of lavacrete, the company’s proprietary concrete mix, are poured one after the other in lengths. swirls. The printer is controlled by a tablet or smartphone, requires only three workers, and can complete a home in under 24 hours.

“We know that being able to build faster, without sacrificing quality, is something we need to make huge strides on if we are even to make a dent in the housing issue in our lifetimes,” said Brett Hagler, New The CEO of Story and one of the four founders.

The organization was formed in 2015, shortly after Mr. Hagler traveled to Haiti and saw families still living in tents years after the 2010 earthquake. 6 billion people live in inadequate housing, according to Habitat for Humanity.

“We are really looking for the greatest opportunities to have both impact and efficiency gains,” said Alexandria Lafci, one of the founders of New Story. “There is a huge speed boost that you get with 3D printing, without sacrificing quality. “

Speed ​​is only one factor in the completion of a village – New Story has partnered with local officials in Tabasco to bring sewage, electricity and water services to the community.

Mr Hernández, who plans to expand his construction business to a larger space in his new home, said he was not focused on a move-in date. He is concerned about the long-term impact the home will have on his daughter, who is studying to be a nurse.

“When we get home, my daughter will be able to count on her,” he said. “She won’t have to worry anymore.

Échale, who has operated in Mexico for 24 years, helped New Story select residents for new homes as needed. He decided to sign the titles of each household not to an entire family but to the hostess.

“It’s to protect the family,” said Francesco Piazzesi, CEO of Échale. “A man will sell a house if he needs it. A woman will do whatever she needs to do to save the home of her children and her family.

Echale hired local workers to build their own communities, so installing a 3D printer from an American tech company in the heart of a rural village was a change.

“If you came to Nacajuca when the 3D printer was there, you would see machines that looked like a RoboCop movie,” Piazzesi said. “It creates opportunities for people because something comes into the community and it lasts. “

Icon has shipped over two dozen 3D printed homes to the United States and Mexico. Its upcoming projects cover the whole spectrum from social housing to emergency housing to real estate at market rates. A project is also underway with NASA to develop space-building systems that it hopes will eventually serve as habitats on both the Moon and Mars.

When Icon was founded, its biggest obstacle was convincing skeptics, said Jason Ballard, one of Icon’s founders and its chief executive.

“I have had builders and developers who explained to me how it is not possible to get concrete to do it, even as I walked them to our 3D printed house,” he said. -he declares. “Now our biggest challenge is to make more printers. “


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