Exploring the Role of 3D Printing in Addressing North Texas’ Affordable Housing Crisis


On a bright winter day in a remote location off a dirt track in Kaufman, southeast of Dallas, a construction squad is busy erecting a barn – but this is a rather unconventional construction environment.

Rather than employing the traditional tools of the trade such as hammers and power drills, this unique setup boasts a robot shouldering the majority of workload.

Craig Pettit, the CEO of Printed Technologies, a firm specializing in constructing 3D printed homes, illustrates it best as “a robot equipped with a soft serve ice cream cone machine at its end. It’s simple – we’re churning out concrete as if we’re dealing with an ice cream cone machine.”

With the ongoing real estate boom in North Texas, innovative entrepreneurs such as Pettit are eying this automated technology as a potential solution to the increasing housing affordability crisis.

Pettit and his business associate Lance Thrailkill assert that their team is consistently enhancing the concrete mixture that’s used for printing.

“We’ve really been playing around with different mixtures and each mixture is unique,” stated Thrailkill. “The print undergoes variation and dries at different rates based on how much water is contained.”

The business has thus far constructed a minimum of six structures using 3D printing, which includes houses, distributed across North Texas.

Thrailkill mentioned that the innovative technology has the potential to revolutionize the housing market soon. This is one of the main factors that drove him to invest in this venture.

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

At the current time, the cost of 3D printing a house roughly equals that of building with traditional methods. Pettit relayed that a number of start-ups, including Printed Technologies, are vying to devise a more cost-effective way to build.

“The task I’ve undertaken over the past three years is to simplify all aspects of the technology to ensure it’s easy to set-up and dismantle,” Pettit conveyed.

Another entrepreneur in the industry, Tim Landau, who also serves as the owner and CEO of Hive 3D Builders, shares that his company constructed what could potentially be one of the widest single-family homes crafted by a 3D printer in Burton, situated to the 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,” Landau said. “You know, your big production builders, they can ramp up and build more houses to close that gap.”

Landau suggested that the only viable solution when new houses cost half a million dollars or more, is to adopt a different approach.

According to him, every sign indicated that increased automation—through 3D printing or other automated processes—can help bridge these cost gaps.

He also said that 3D printing can reduce the labour required for constructing a house. A small crew of two to four people could suffice.

In addition, the process is faster. For instance, Printed Technologies can print the framework for a 1,700-square-foot home in around 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 spokesperson for the association stated that the technology carries the potential to address the persistent issues of housing and labor shortages.

Landau indicates that the industry could currently head in one of two directions — one where it evolves into a specialty industry catering to people who can afford personalized 3D printed homes. On the other hand, if businesses discover methods to reduce the additional expense, it could emerge as the new standard.

Lance Thraillkill from Printed Technologies visualizes this scenario unfolding.

“He anticipates widespread adoption of this technology across the whole of the United States and globally within the forthcoming five to ten years,” he conveyed. “The extent of this acceptance will very much depend 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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