This Isn’t Your Father’s Printer

When I hear the word “printer” my first thought is of that clunky appliance that prints out documents and seems to have somewhat limited life span.

Well now we’ve entered the age of 3D printers that can produce everything from plastic figurines to body parts to houses. That’s right, body parts and houses.

I want to write about houses, but if you want to read about 3D printing for body parts, often known as bioprinting, here is a good summary of the state of the art.

Shelter is one of our most basic human needs, yet over one billion people around the world have no place to live that a reasonable person could call home. But having a shelter can be life changing, and offers the following benefits, according to New Story, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit whose leaders have spent the last few years rethinking how to build safe housing for those living in extreme poverty:

  • Once a family has clean water, proper sanitation, a concrete floor, and a protective roof, exposure to diseases and sickness drastically decreases.
  • A safe home provides a foundation for families to focus on income. More income means higher quality of life and the ability to save for the future.
  • Kids in safe homes attend school more than kids in slum conditions. More attendance means kids aren’t left behind and can perform better.

There have been successful efforts to build low-cost housing, but not at the scale that is needed to solve this global problem. And that is where 3D printing comes in.

New Story has partnered with ICON, a robotics construction company, to build houses that are completely built with 3D printers and limited labor.Their first prototype, a 350-foot square house, was built in Austin, TX, at a cost of about $6,500.  The goal is to get the costs for a single house as low as $3,500, and completed in 12-24 hours. These types of 3D printers are expensive, but the goal is to get the cost under $100,000. The belief is that a single printer may be able to print 1,000 houses.

How It Works

The 3D printer, set on tracks, squirts out the concrete material in layers to build floors and walls, which harden as it goes, to build a 600- to 800-square-foot single-story home, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. (The roof is not 3D-printed.) The result is both energy-efficient and resilient in storms. “There are fundamental problems with conventional stick-building that 3D printing solves, besides affordability,” says Jason Ballard, cofounder of Icon Technologies. “You get a high thermal mass, thermal envelope, which makes it far more energy-efficient. It’s far more resilient.”

Now that the prototype has been successfully built and met all existing code standards for the city of Austin, the next step, according to Alexandria Lafci, New Story’s cofounder and COO, is bringing the printer to El Salvador, where New Story plans to build its first community of 3-D-printed homes later this year.

And this is where you come in; you can become part of this project. By donating $4,000 through a Kickstarter type project you can receive:

  • Technology & community building updates throughout the process
  • Meet your family through the digital family profile page
  • Move-in video of family upon completion

I think it would be fun to get a few people to chip in perhaps $400 each and fund one home; if interested, let me know.

You can read more about the project here.

This technology is not only useful for building houses in low income parts of the world, it can also be very beneficial after natural disasters where this a is a need to rebuild quickly and at scale. #d printers have that capability.

3D printers are also more environmentally friendly since there is little to no waste of construction material; you only print what is needed.

I love reading about these breakthrough ideas that have the potential to not only be successful commercial enterprises, but to solve a social problem as well.

It’s a classic win-win, and you can be part of it.

Here’s another video of the Austin house as well as two others that were 3D printed:

I wonder how far behind 3D printed, self-driving electric cars are…

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