Exploring the Potential of 3D Printing to Address North Texas’ Affordable Housing Crisis


On a bright winter morning at an off-road property in Kaufman, southeast of Dallas, a construction crew is busy erecting a barn. However, this isn’t a typical construction site.

In lieu of hammers and power drills, the main workforce here is a robot.

“The robot could be best described as having a soft serve ice cream cone machine attached to it,” stated Craig Pettit, the CEO of Printed Technologies, a firm that specializes in creating 3D printed homes. “It’s the same principle – we’re pushing concrete out just like an ice cream machine would.”

As North Texas experiences tremendous growth, forward-thinking entrepreneurs like Pettitt believe that this innovative, automated technology could provide a solution to the escalating housing affordability crisis.

Pettit along with his associate Lance Thrailkill express that their team is continuously refining the concrete compound utilized for 3D printing.

Lance conveys, “Our key focus lies in experimenting with diverse blends as each mixture varies. Depending on the amount of water present in the mix the printed object varies in terms of appearance and drying time.”

As per the record, the firm has already used a 3D printer for constructing a minimum of six structures encompassing residences across North Texas.

Thrailkill anticipates that this innovative technology will soon revolutionize the housing market, which is one of the driving forces behind his investment in this venture.

“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.

Like Thrailkill, Landau says what sparked his interest in 3D printing was trying to solve the affordability gap.

“That gap is, you know, specifically, it’s the difference between what the median income person can afford for a house and what the median price for a house is,” Landau said.

Another issue is the supply gap — how many houses are on the market. A recent report found Dallas alone needs as many as 60,000 more homes to meet demand.

“It’s kind of a solvable problem,” Laundau said. “You know, your big production builders, they can ramp up and build more houses to close that gap.”

But when the cost of newly built houses exceeds half a million dollars, the only solution, according to Landau, is to innovate.

“The indication is towards more automation. This could be through 3D printing or other methods of automation to narrow these gaps,” stated Landau.

Besides, 3D printing decreases the number of workers required to construct a house. Generally, a crew of two to four persons is sufficient.

This technique also speeds up the process – Printed Technologies can print the shell of a 1,700-square-foot home in approximately two weeks.

It may seem that this system is ousting essential job opportunities, however, as per Associated Builders and Contractors, there is a deficit of over half a million employees in the construction sector.

Landau indicates that 3D printing helps to ease this labor scarcity.

“Therefore, it is not meant to eliminate jobs,” he stated. “It’s supposed to fill the vacancies of jobs that currently we don’t have individuals to do them.”

However, this new and emerging industry does encounter its challenges. Currently, the expenditure of printing a house is just as expensive as constructing one traditionally. Furthermore, in the Dallas area, according to the Dallas Builders Association, there isn’t a massive demand for 3D printed houses.

A representative from the association voiced that the technology indeed possesses the capability to address the persistent troubles of housing and labor shortages.

Landau predicts that the industry has two possible trajectories — it could either transform into a specialized industry for those who can aforrd personalized 3D printed homes or, if firms unveil strategies to curtail the supplementary expenses, it might emerge as the new standard.

The transition towards standardizing this technology is something Lance Thraillkill from Printed Technologies foresees happening.

In his words, “I anticipate that in the coming five to ten years, it’ll be embraced widely, not only in the entire United States but globally. The level of acceptance, however, will hinge 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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