ICON’s Vulcan 3-D printer packs a punch against homelessness

With 1.2 billion people worldwide without access to adequate shelter, one Texas start-up hopes to change that. On Monday, March 12, Austin-based ICON unveiled the world’s first permitted 3-D printed home. ICON’s Vulcan 3-D printer built the home in just under 48 hours and for less than $4,000, a fraction of average construction costs.

The 350 sq foot building will serve as ICON’s office, allowing the company to witness firsthand any issues with the home and make necessary modifications before going into full scale production. The home is complete with a living room, bathroom, and office space. Unlike other companies that have built 3-D printed homes that “look like Yoda huts”, ICON was intent on constructing a home that was functional and modern. Jason Ballard, one of ICON’s three founders, asserted, “For this venture to succeed, they have to be the best houses.”

The Vulcan 3-D printer used durable yet cheap materials and produced little waste in the making of the Austin house. According to ICON’s other co-founder Evan Loomis, the concrete mixture used in the Vulcan is three times stronger than traditional concrete. The Vulcan can produce single-story, 600 to 800 sq ft homes in under 24 hours. Andrew Logan at Logan Architecture, the head designer for the project, added that the Vulcan 3-D printer allowed for more creativity compared to conventional construction. “When you’re talking about standard methods of construction, the guys in the field have a really hard time building that [unique] geometry,” Logan explained. “It’s difficult getting it all lined up properly. But if you have a machine doing it, it’s going straight from the computer to the field. You have infinite design ability to get crazy with your angles and curves and forms.”

Because the Vulcan 3-D printer can build homes faster, more affordably, and sustainably, ICON has high hopes for the tool to be used in humanitarian applications, especially in the developing world. The company is teaming up with the non-profit New Story to address homelessness and global housing shortages. Together, they will construct a community of 100 houses in El Salvador next year using the Vulcan 3-D printer technology.

Loomis said, “We just think homes are not obtainable and affordable and they certainly aren’t sustainable. So we thought that the convergence of robotics, material science, and software would have a novel way for people to afford a basic human need: shelter.”

Working on technological solutions to address some of the globe’s most pressing problems? Did you know your experiments could be eligible for the R&D Tax Credit and you can receive up to 14% on your expenses? To find out more, please contact a Swanson Reed R&D Specialist today or check out our free online eligibility test.


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