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


On a brightly lit winter morning on a estate just off a dusty country road in Kaufman, which is southeast of Dallas, a group of builders are busily constructing a barn. However, this isn’t your conventional construction site.

Rather than utilizing hammers and power drills, this compact team is allowing a robot to perform the majority of the work.

“Presumably the simplest way to explain it is a robot that has a soft serve ice cream cone machine at its end,” stated Craig Pettit, the CEO of Printed Technologies, a firm that fabricates 3D printed houses, “hence we’re merely extruding concrete just like that, as if it were a ice cream cone machine.”

As North Texas continues to experience unprecedented development, innovators like Pettit are optimistic that this advanced, automated technology could be the answer to the housing affordability problem.

Pettit and his business associate Lance Thrailkill express that their team is perpetually enhancing the concrete blend utilised for printing.

“The aspect we’ve genuinely been fine-tuning is the diversity of blends and each blend is unique,” says Thrailkill. “The print emerges differently and dries either more rapidly or slowly based on the extent of water contained in it.”

The enterprise has presently constructed at least six structures using a 3D printer, encompassing residences, all over North Texas.

Thrailkill anticipates that the novel technology could soon bring about a transformation in the housing market. This is one of the motivations for his investment in the 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.

Thrailkill, like Landau, notes that what ignited his curiosity in 3D printing was the quest to address the affordability disparity.

“This disparity, specifically, is the gap between what an individual earning a median income can afford to pay for a house and the average price of a house,” said Landau.

Another key issue is the supply disparity — the number of homes available on the market. A recent study revealed that Dallas alone needs up to 60,000 additional homes to satisfy demand.

According to Landau, this is a problem that has a solution. “Major production builders can ramp up production and construct more homes to bridge this gap.”

However, when the cost of newly built homes exceeds half a million dollars, the only solution, according to Landau, is to embrace change.

“The evidence suggests an increasing reliance on automation, be it 3D printing or other automation technologies, to address these challenges,” explained Landau.

Another advantage of 3D printing is that it decreases the workforce required for home building. Usually, a team consisting of two to four people is sufficient.

The process is also quicker. Printed Technologies is capable of printing the framework of a 1,700-square-foot home in approximately 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 from the association expressed that the technology could potentially provide a solution to the constant struggles with housing and labor shortages.

According to Landau, the industry could develop into one of two directions now. It could either become a specialized sector catering to those who can afford bespoke 3D printed houses. Or, if firms can discover methods to reduce the additional costs, it may become the mainstream practice.

This is the eventuality that Lance Thraillkill from Printed Technologies anticipates.

“I envisage its adoption, across the United States and globally, in the next five to ten years,” he stated. “The extent of this acceptance will rely on the price.”

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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