Will 3D printed houses remodel the construction industry?

By Kitty Wheeler
Dawud Muneer MRICS, senior specialist for construction and infrastructure management at RICS, says “3D printing, as a modern method of construction could have a transformative impact on how we build globally”
ICON invests in 3D printed houses amongst major players: Saint-Gobain, Holcim Group, Bouygues and Skanska to transform the worldwide construction industry

Building 130 homes across Mexico and the US, ICON, the Texan construction technology firm, has utilised its specialities in engineering robotic and AI systems to make strides in the curious yet rapidly growing sector of 3D printing for houses.

Gaining traction in 2018, ICON presented a 3D printed house that met US building codes, was 60 m2, single-storey, made of concrete, printed in two days and all for just USD$10,000.

Whilst conventional 3D printers typically extrude thin layers of plastic to create physical forms, this 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a revolutionary process that transforms digital designs into tangible, three-dimensional objects. 

In this burgeoning sector, 3D printing in housing addresses key industry challenges worldwide from labour shortages, to waste reduction, to construction speed, as it offers rapid cost-effective building solutions, enhanced design flexibility, and improved sustainability. 

This technology could revolutionise affordable housing and disaster relief efforts globally.

What major construction players are investing in 3D printed houses and why?

ICON, having acquired Olympus Construction to enhance its prefabrication capabilities, focuses on large-scale 3D-printed housing projects and disaster relief shelters.

With investments from Moderna and BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, ICON raised USD$451mn in funding, then leaped even further by partnering with NASA to develop 3D-printed structures for lunar habitation.

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ICON has recently unveiled game-changing innovations at this year’s SXSW event, from low-carbon concrete for multi-storey printing, to 60 new house designs, to AI-powered software for rapid customisation.

Consequently, becoming one of many major construction companies investing in this modern revelation: 

Saint-Gobain (France): having acquired a stake in XtreeE, a 3D concrete printing company, is focusing on developing 3D-printed building materials and components.

Holcim Group (Switzerland): partnered with XtreeE to develop 3D-printed concrete solutions, is investing in research to create specialised 3D printing materials.

Bouygues Construction (France): collaborating with Dassault Systèmes and XtreeE on 3D-printed building projects, is focusing on integrating 3D printing into traditional construction methods.

Skanska (Sweden): has collaborated with Loughborough University on 3D concrete printing technology, to invest in research to develop 3D-printed building components and structures.

These companies are investing in 3D printing for houses due to potential benefits including: reduced construction time and labour costs, increased design flexibility and customisation and improved sustainability through reduced material waste

As the technology matures, we can expect to see more collaborations, mergers, and acquisitions in this sector, as traditional construction firms seek to integrate 3D printing capabilities into their operations.

How can 3D printed houses improve the construction industry worldwide?

Globally, 3D printing offers rapid solutions for disaster relief and emergency housing, along with the potential to address housing shortages in developing regions and the ability to adapt designs for varying climates and environments.

By automating labour-intensive processes and reducing material waste, 3D printing lowers overall project expenses, and with 24/7 building capability and streamlined project timelines, construction times are dramatically reduced. 

Enabling greater architectural flexibility, 3D printing also allows for complex geometries previously difficult or impossible to achieve, leading to more efficient and customisable homes.

Benefits of 3D printing for houses:

  • Cost reduction
  • Increased efficiency
  • Design innovation
  • Sustainability
  • Supply chain disruption
  • Workforce transformation
  • Regulatory challenges
  • Global housing solutions
  • Industry restructuring
  • Investment and R&D focus
  • Reliance on concrete as a familiar construction material

Labour shortages, rising costs, and supply chain issues make 3D printing an increasingly attractive option for the construction industry.

And alongside company sustainability goals, the technology optimises material use, reducing carbon footprints and opens avenues for utilising recycled or eco-friendly materials, whilst minimising on-site waste and transportation needs.

The charity sector is also embracing 3D printing for housing solutions, as construction company Citizen Robotics and organisation Habitat for Humanity, have pioneered projects in Detroit and Virginia, addressing affordable housing needs.

ICON founder and CEO, Jason Ballard, says: “In the future, I believe nearly all construction will be done by robots, and nearly all construction-related information will be processed and managed by AI systems”

“It is clear to me that this is the way to cut the cost and time of construction in half while making homes that are twice as good and more faithfully express the values and hopes of the people who live in them”, says ICON founder and CEO, Jason Ballard.

Dawud Muneer MRICS, senior specialist for construction and infrastructure management at RICS, also says 3D printing will result in “building faster and more efficiently, while meeting ESG targets”.

Dawud believes that 3D printed construction is a marriage of high-tech equipment and the built environment that will ultimately require a new set of skills, blending both IT knowledge and construction expertise.

Looking to the future, he foresees a new method of working in relation to 3D printing, particularly in relation to project and commercial management, planning and design, and health and safety. 


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