Construction 3D printing company ICON recently announced a $35 million Series A funding round, underscoring a bright future for the technology.
While we continue to remind our readers that, no, you cannot have a finished house made start to finish in 24 hours — well, those claims aren’t as absurd as they sounded just a few years ago. Still inaccurate, mind, as there’s much more to a house (or any other inhabitable building) than four walls, but the 3D printing of those walls can notably speed building times.
Is construction 3D printing disruptive? More and more companies seem to think so, both those companies participating in construction 3D printing — and those funding them.
“Traditional building and construction techniques have not improved since B.C., they have only become more expensive,” said Constance Freedman, Founder and Managing Partner at Moderne Ventures. “The results are vast deltas in affordability, limitations on design and both time and efficiency challenges. I believe we will see an evolution of the entire home-buying value chain, especially when integrated with other technologies like digital transactions and augmented reality. Consumers will be able to order, build, design and purchase a brand-new home in a matter of days–something that’s truly innovative and truly disruptive. We are excited to support ICON as it continues to change the world.”
Freedman, as it happens, has just joined the Board of Directors of ICON, as Moderne Ventures led the new Series A funding round. She is joined on the Board by Khan Tasinga, Director at Palantir Technologies; Moderne Ventures is joined in the funding round by BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, CAZ Investments, Citi, Crosstimbers Ventures, Ironspring Ventures, Next Coast Ventures, Oakhouse Partners, Trust Ventures, Vulcan Capital, and Wavemaker Partners.
Each of these companies, from the data-mining Palantir Technologies to international architectural company BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, surely has its reasons for adding to the future of the 3D printing company. What all those reasons may be, we’ll leave for now for them to know, and focus on what makes ICON intriguing for financing.
ICON describes the three key factors they seek to address in bringing 3D printing into construction:
- Affordability: The average person can not afford a home.
- Sustainability: Homebuilding is inefficient and wasteful.
- Availability: Over 1 billion people do not have adequate shelter.
ICON Co-Founder and CEO Jason Ballard notes that North America today has “almost twenty” 3D printed homes — thus up “almost twenty” from the level cited just two years ago — “and we’re gearing up for hundreds more.”
ICON already has several real-world installations in place, as he notes, and among the early projects for the company is a village of low-cost single-floor homes for the (formerly) homeless in Austin, Texas at the Community First! Village. (ICON notes that move-ins will happen “this summer” for this community.) With New Story, ICON is building a neighborhood in Tabasco, Mexico. Looking ahead at those “hundreds” of upcoming builds, ICON explains:
“We will be printing homes for a variety of partners in 2020 including social housing, middle market homes and other structures for partners such as the Defense Innovation Unit.
In late summer 2019, we broke ground in Latin America on the world’s first 3D-printed community for those experiencing extreme poverty and have completed a row of beautiful homes to date.”
To date, ICON has now raised $44 million, adding in the $9M seed funding round announced in 2018.
The funds from the seed round went in large part to developing the sleek Vulcan II construction 3D printer, which debuted last spring along with operating software and the Magma supply unit that delivers extrudable concrete to the printer during operation.
For the Series A round, ICON continues to look ahead in technology and for the company itself; the announcement explains:
“ICON’s new round of funding will accelerate the development of its printers, create a variety of home types and designs and enhance its core technology stack to further its mission of using advanced construction technologies to advance humanity.
Additional projects will break ground this year and new partnerships will be announced in the coming months. The Austin-based start-up will be expanding their team with numerous roles across robotics, off-planet construction, materials science, software engineering, architecture, building science and operations.”
As ever during the turbulence that is 2020, it’s also quite notable that this $35 million came in during a global pandemic.
The economy isn’t doing so great as millions remain un- or under-employed, and many companies have been looking more inward, unfortunately often with an eye toward staff reductions. The 3D printing industry has been standing more firm than many other sectors, as, overall, the technology has been remarkably resilient during this crisis, proving its value — and proving out its long-standing claims of disruption — since the early days of the novel coronavirus.
Construction 3D printing isn’t quite producing PPE or ventilator parts, so its backing may seem somewhat more unlikely than other applications of additive manufacturing. However, as ICON’s CEO touches on, the solutions they’re developing remain highly pertinent to those living in a troubled economic climate:
“The present challenges the world is facing due to new coronavirus have only emphasized the tremendous gap between the housing that we have and the housing that we need,” Ballard says.
New problems require new solutions — and 3D printing homes is certainly a new solution…and, it seems, a pretty well-funded one.