An ICON’s Vision for Construction 3D Printing on Earth and Beyond will be showcased on 60 Minutes.


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The world of construction is buzzing with the potential of 3D printing technology, and Jason Ballard, the CEO of Texas-based company ICON, believes that it is a groundbreaking transformation. In a recent interview with 60 Minutes, Ballard showcased the industrial 3D printing technology being pioneered by his startup and their partnership with NASA.

ICON has developed a unique 3D printing technique that utilizes concrete as its primary building material. The process involves mixing a half-ton sack of concrete powder with water and additives before it is ready for use in the printer. The concrete is then printed in layer beads, which harden as the next layer is added. To ensure the building’s structural integrity, steel reinforcements are incorporated every tenth layer. These 160-bead home frames can be printed in just two weeks.

While the concrete walls are 3D printed, traditional methods are still used for wiring, plumbing, and roofing. However, Ballard considers this approach to be a “paradigm shift” in home construction, comparing it to the Wright Brothers’ pioneering work in aviation. ICON claims that its homes are designed to be resilient in the face of environmental challenges. They exceed local building codes in terms of energy efficiency and can withstand extreme weather conditions, such as 200 mph winds. Additionally, 3D printed concrete homes are impervious to termites and other pests, making them ideal for building in distressed areas.

One of the key advantages of 3D printed concrete homes, according to ICON, is their environmental friendliness. Compared to traditional stick frame wall systems, the concrete printed wall has a “single material supply chain” that is delivered by a robot. This eliminates truckloads of waste in the form of wood scrap, siding, and drywall. ICON believes that this sustainable approach is crucial in addressing the challenges faced by humankind.

In line with their commitment to sustainability, ICON has partnered with an organization dedicated to housing the long-term homeless. The company has already printed homes and a community center for a village, providing much-needed shelter to those in need. However, while ICON’s intentions are noble, the homes they are currently constructing north of Austin will be priced in the high $400,000s. Ballard acknowledges that serving the very poor is their heart’s desire, but building only low-margin homes for the homeless would lead to bankruptcy. To make their mission financially sustainable, ICON also takes on government contracts, including designing barracks for the army and airforce, as well as vehicle plating for the marines.

ICON’s groundbreaking work in 3D printing has attracted the attention of NASA’s Moon-to-Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technology (MMPACT) group. After showcasing a model home at SXSW 2018, ICON partnered with MMPACT, receiving initial development funding in 2020 and eventually securing a $57 million contract in 2022. The partnership aims to design a 3D printer that can operate on the Lunar surface. By utilizing lunar regolith (moon dust) as a building material, the exorbitant cost of transporting materials from Earth can be significantly reduced. This collaboration with NASA is another significant milestone for ICON and Ballard, who once aspired to be an astronaut. Now, his work is being utilized to construct vital infrastructure in space.

In conclusion, the world of construction is indeed witnessing a groundbreaking transformation with the advent of 3D printing technology. ICON’s innovative approach to 3D printing concrete homes is not only revolutionizing the way homes are built but also addressing some of the environmental and social challenges faced by humanity. With their partnership with NASA, ICON’s technology is set to make a significant impact not just on Earth but also on the moon. The future of construction looks promising, thanks to the power of 3D printing.

Space exploration has always been a fascination for humanity, but one major obstacle has hindered our progress: the exorbitant cost of getting Earth-based materials into space. For instance, a brick-sized amount of concrete costs around $1 million to transport to space. Needless to say, this expense has been a significant deterrent in our efforts to explore and construct in space.

However, technology is evolving, and companies like ICON are finding innovative ways to overcome these challenges. ICON has developed a printer that utilizes lunar regolith, rather than water and concrete, to create building materials. This groundbreaking approach relies on a high-intensity laser that melts the regolith, transforming it into solid material for construction.

In a recent demonstration on 60 Minutes, ICON showcased a prototype laser, which successfully melted simulated regolith. NASA has been collaborating with ICON, conducting tests to determine if the printed test pieces can withstand the extreme temperatures on a lunar landing pad. The results have been promising, and the next step is to construct a larger test pad to be placed in a NASA thermal vacuum chamber that replicates lunar conditions.

The ultimate goal for ICON and NASA is to send mobile versions of these printers to the Moon for the construction of roads and habitats. Their shared belief is that if they can achieve this on the Moon, then Mars, with its more favorable conditions, should not pose a greater challenge. However, some skeptics have drawn comparisons between ICON’s CEO, Jason Ballard, with other overpromising CEOs like Elon Musk and Elizabeth Holmes. The recent round of layoffs at ICON has only fueled these concerns.

Ballard, however, remains steadfast in his vision for the future. He envisions a world where artificial intelligence designs buildings, and robots construct them, leading to more accessible and aesthetically pleasing housing. While some may view this vision as overly optimistic, others see it as a necessary injection of utopian ideals into our collective consciousness.

While these concepts are still in their infancy, ICON’s commitment to sustainability and their groundbreaking work in 3D printed construction indicate a potentially bright future. As the boundaries of 3D printing technology continue to shift, the transformation of terrestrial home construction and our ability to sustain installations beyond our atmosphere may become a reality.

To stay informed about the latest developments in the 3D printing industry and receive updates and offers from third-party vendors, be sure to stay up-to-date with the latest news. The world of 3D printing is constantly evolving, and it promises to revolutionize not only construction on Earth but also our ventures into space.

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“Why did the 3D printer go to therapy? Because it had too many layers of unresolved issues!”


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