Exploring the Potential of 3D Printing in Solving North Texas’ Affordable Housing Crisis


On a sunny winter morning at a property off a rural dirty road in Kaufman, southeast of Dallas, a construction crew is working on building a barn — but this isn’t your traditional building site.

Instead of working with hammers and power drills, this small crew is letting a robot do most of the work.

“Probably the easiest way to describe it is a robot that has a soft serve ice cream cone machine at the end of it,” said Craig Pettit, CEO of Printed Technologies, a company that builds 3D printed homes, “and so we’re just pushing concrete out just like that, like ice cream cone machine would.”

As North Texas continues to see unprecedented growth, entrepreneurs like Pettit are hoping to solve the housing affordability crisis by turning to this innovative, automated technology.

Pettit and his business associate Lance Thrailkill mention that their team is always working on enhancing the concrete mix they use for printing.

“We’re continually experimenting with different mixes and every mix has its own characteristics,” said Thrailkill. “The print varies each time and the drying time can be faster or slower depending on the water content.”

The firm has to date created at least six buildings using a 3D printer, including homes, all over North Texas.

Thrailkill believes that this innovative technology will soon revolutionize the real estate market. That is one of the reasons he has invested in the enterprise.

“We really want to help solve the affordable housing crisis here in America and really, worldwide,” he said.

Right now, the cost of 3D printing a house is about the same as building with traditional methods. Pettit said many start-ups, like Printed Technologies, are racing to develop a more affordable way to build.

“One of the things that I’ve done over the past three years is just simplify everything within the technology to make it easy to set up, make it easy to take down,” Pettit said.

Tim Landau is another industry entrepreneur and the owner and CEO of Hive 3D Builders. His company built what could be one of the largest single family homes made by a 3D printer in Burton, east of Austin.

Thrailkill and Landau were both drawn to 3D printing as a means of addressing the issue of housing affordability.

Landau explained that the “affordability gap” refers to the divide between what a person with a median income can afford and the typical price of a house.

There’s also a “supply gap” to consider – the actual number of houses available for sale. According to a recent study, Dallas alone requires up to 60,000 additional homes to satisfy current demand.

However, Landau offers optimism,”This is a problem that can be solved,” Landau expressed. “The larger building companies have the ability to escalate their production and build more houses therefore closing the gap.”

But when the cost of newly constructed homes exceeds half a million dollars, doing something different is the only solution, as suggested by Landau.

Landau emphasized the need for more automation, be it 3D printing or other forms of automotive technology, to bridge these gaps.

The process of 3D printing reduces the manpower needed to construct a house. It usually requires a crew of just two to four people.

Not only this, but it’s a much quicker process as well. Printed Technologies can produce the frame print of a 1700 square foot house in just about two weeks.

That might sound like it’s replacing much-needed jobs, but according to Associated Builders and Contractors, there’s a shortage of more than half a million workers in construction.

Landau says 3D printing helps alleviate that labor shortage.

“So it’s supposed to not eliminate jobs,” he said. “It’s supposed to take the place of jobs that right now we don’t have anyone to do.”

Still, this new, burgeoning industry does face its challenges. Right now, the cost of printing a home is just as much as building one traditionally. There also isn’t a huge demand for 3D printed homes in the Dallas area, according to the Dallas Builders Association.

A representative of the alliance commented that the technology indeed has the possibility to address the enduring turmoil of housing and labor deficiencies.

Landau opines that currently, the sector could take either of two routes – one where it evolves into a specialized industry catering only to those who can pay for custom-designed 3D printed houses. Alternatively, if firms can discover methods to reduce the extra expenses, it may become the standard.

Narrating his views, Lance Thraillkill from Printed Technologies sees the latter coming to fruition.

“I foresee this technology being adopted throughout the entire United States and even globally in the coming five to ten years,” he forecasted. “The extent of its acceptance will be contingent on the cost.”

That means someday in the not too distant future, houses and even entire neighborhoods could be built — at least partially — by robots.

Got a tip? Email Pablo Arauz Peña at parauzpena@kera.org

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Original source


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

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