ICON announced a deal with Lennar to produce 100 3D printed homes.
Texas-based ICON has been one of the leaders in the construction 3D printing market, with several notable projects underway and completed. After the announcement of their huge Vulcan II construction 3D printer in 2019, the company has received significant investments of US$35M in 2020, and a whopping US$207M only a few months ago.
Lennar is a huge residential construction company based in Florida. In 2017, the company became the largest home construction company in the United States, with revenue exceeding US$12B.
The deal proposes to jointly build a 100-home neighborhood, with specific home styles co-designed by BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group.
I say “styles”, rather than “style” because these homes will all be unique. That’s a feature of 3D printers: it’s possible to make each print different, and while that’s often done for small parts, here it’s being done for entire homes.
“Designed as a diverse collection of contemporary living spaces, the homes take on a variety of distinctive spatial concepts. The design approach modernizes the aesthetic of the suburban home, while the 3D printing technology texturizes and provides distinctive touchpoints for each space. The freedom of form facilitated by this building technology – including the sinuous curves of the walls – combines with traditional construction materials to create homes that are both aesthetically and physically unique.”
The two companies are partnering for good reasons: current construction 3D printing technology simply produces the concrete portions of a structure, while the remainder of the project must be built using conventional approaches. You can guess which partner is performing each part.
The project is set to begin in 2022, and will likely take months or even years to complete.
President of LENX, Eric Feder, said:
“Labor and material shortages are two of the biggest factors pushing the dream of home ownership out of reach for many American families. Lennar has always expanded the boundaries of technological innovation to keep quality homes affordable and 3D printing is an immensely encouraging approach. We are excited to collaborate with ICON to develop solutions to emerging challenges in the coming years.”
This is an interesting statement. In past years it hasn’t always been financially feasible to 3D print a home: concrete isn’t a cheap material. However, in recent months things have changed.
The price of wood has dramatically risen to the point where my construction friends laugh, and then cry at the cost of a 2×4 at the wood supply store.
But this price rise may have done something interesting: change the value equation for construction 3D printing. The comparison cost of wood versus concrete is now different, and in some regions it may be that concrete is less expensive. This could open the door for increased construction 3D printing: money talks.
The other factor mentioned by Feder is labor shortages. There’s a lot of construction taking place during the pandemic, and this has resulted in labor shortages. However, construction 3D printers require far fewer personnel to complete the job because the robotics systems do most of the heavy lifting.
It may be that if labor shortages are sufficiently severe, a construction 3D printer might be the only option available to complete the concrete work on time.
This move suggests we may see additional 3D printed construction projects in the near future. Lennar clearly believes this is the case, as they are a major investor in ICON.