In the USA, sky-high house prices are driving people to look at 3d printed homes. This drive combined with rising rents is creating a national housing crises, where people are spending more than half their income in a rental.
Within this housing crises, 3D printing is emerging as a new construction method for low cost homes. Also known as contour crafting, 3D printing in cement has great industrial potential to print affordable and custom housing.
In 2018 Apis Cor went viral with their 3d printed home. Like many, I flocked to their website and contacted them about printing houses with their printers in the USA. After contacting Apis Cor, I got this general email from them.
It turns out that Apis Cor is not selling their printers, and have tough business requirements in place just to lease their 3d printers. With their partnership with Gerdau, Apis Cor is keeping the technology for their 3D house printers close to the vest, which is a problem across all the 3D house printing industry.
BetAbram has been a quiet manufacturer on the scene. Based in Slovenia, BetAbram has shown they are willing to sell their printers overseas. However, there is miles of red tape to transfer the companies IP to a US distributor. Once the legal matters are settled, US production of their printers can start.
ICON in Texas
ICON also went viral in 2018 with their 2 bedroom house printed to code in Texas. Along with the non-profit New Story, ICON’s goal is to take the Vulcan printer to Latin America and 3D print affordable homes there.
Like Apis Cor they are not selling their house printers, and have not released plans to 3D print affordable homes in the USA. Currently they are taking donations for $4,000 USD to print a home.
While I applaud their New Story’s humanitarian mission, I feel that they can make more of an impact printing affordable homes and on demand in the USA, and having a matching house program in Latin America. Such a buy one, donate one housing program would double the impact of their printers. If ICON can print more expensive house designs in the USA, they can put the profit to affordable homes in Latin America.
ICON’s strength is that they have a house printed to code, and have a printer that can work off grid. The house is working as the office and engineering test bed for the companies.
Yhnova is a project with the University of Nantes, France. This project has also produced a home to code in Nantes, France. What is also new is that the house was designed for government subsidized housing, with the current family of 5 living in this new house. France is expanding this technology for 18 other social houses in the area. Their construction method is different, where they use a two-part foam to create a mold for pouring cement, then finish the house with the spray insulation already installed.
Andrey Rudenko exploded across the 3D printing world with his 3D printed castle. Just recently he updated his website to cover the sale of various cement printers in the EU market.
Service Printing Business Model
Many 3D printer companies are focused on a service printing business model (SPBM). Service printers do not sell their printers, but function as a print on demand firm for construction companies.
Unfortunately for everyone that is trying to get into the 3D house printing business, this presents a major barrier to entry. This technology is emerging, and any company that can develop a reliable printer and run a SPBM will have an open season. This promises quick ROI for any developing company. Any house printing firm that can crank out houses will take the lead in het 3d house printing market.
Service printing companies will have the flexibility to 3D print homes, planters, road barriers, or fences on demand. With a 2-3 person crew and a printer, these printers can go to a site and print a wide range of items. Full house printers could crank out 1-2 homes a week, compared to traditional stick built homes which can take 1-2 months to frame.
In the off seasons, SPBM companies can print household items like road barriers, planters, or bus shelters. The flexibility that 3D printing cement offers gives any company the ability to adapt to various markets.
Printer Franchise Business Model (PFBM)
Another business model is ripe with this technology. Printer franchises can lease or sell the 3D printers to established construction companies. PFBM can also provide the training, cements, and spare parts for established companies.
With a PFBM, new companies can augment current construction companies with 3d printing technology. PFBM can also support current construction businesses, and encourage price competition for lower housing cost.
Franchises can also function as SPBM’s, providing a printing service in addition to selling the hardware.
3D printed homes are on the cusp of a industrial revolution in homes. ICON and Yhnova have shown that affordable homes can be 3D printed to local building codes. Here are the current obstacles to future 3D printed homes.
- Research: These homes have just been printed, and their durability has yet to be tested fully. Engineering research on 3d printable cement mixes is ongoing. More data is needed about the types of cements that are printable.
- Industrial Standards: As a new technology, the standards for the cement and methods have yet to be established. While some current standards for traditional cement methods may be applicable, new industry standards will have to be written.
- Local building codes: Local building codes may be the hardest to work with for 3D printed homes. Some areas may allow 3D homes under existing concrete codes, but others may demand more research before 3D homes are built.
- Public perception: The public views 3D printing as a way to make toys, but not full size homes. With demonstrations and publicly viewable 3d printed homes, this perception may change.
- Education: STEM education is advancing the current generations 3D printing and CAD skills. However, 3d printed homes will require higher level training to produce the next generation of architects.
- SPBM: Companies that hold the house printing technology close to the vest inhibit market competition and innovation. Lack of franchise or sales options for current printers is also hindering this emerging market.
- IP: Intellectual property is a major barrier for many companies that want to sell their technology overseas. The tech is so competitive that franchisers would have to sign NDA’s and exclusive distribution deals. All the printer companies know the value of their technology, and can afford to be picky about who gets access to it.