A typical single-family home in the US takes an average of six and a half months to build, according to the Census Bureauâ€™s latest survey. Now an Austin-based startup called Icon can erect a house nearly 200 times fasterâ€”in a day.
The Vulcan, a house-building 3-D printerSIZE:
12.5 x 22.5 x 35 feetWEIGHT:
1 tonTOP SPEED:
5 inches per second
To be fair, the company is building houses that max out at 800 square feet, but thatâ€™s not the limit. The hyperspeed fabrication is the work of a megasize 3-D printerâ€”picture a MakerBot on steroidsâ€”named the Vulcan. Engineers run digital blueprints for the home through so-called slicer software, which translates the design into the programming language G-code. That code determines where the printer moves along its track, extruding 3â�„4-inch-thick layers of concrete like icing on a cake. The base materialâ€”a finely calibrated mix of cement, sand, plasticizers, and other aggregatesâ€”gets poured into a hopper at the top of the printer and flows onto the rising walls below.
The resulting abodes, which will cost $4,000 to build, are the latest addition in the ubiquitous tiny-house movement. (Iconâ€™s ultimate goal is to alleviate the housing crisis; the company is exploring partnerships with FEMA and Fannie Mae.) In 2019, Icon intends to ship the Vulcan to El Salvador, where itâ€™s slated to print 100 homes for disadvantaged families. But the startupâ€™s next excursion may be even farther afield: Icon is participating in a NASA competition to develop printable space habitats using â€œindigenous materials,â€� the planetary soil available onsite. Once again, the Vulcan may boldly go where no human has gone before.
1. Mortar Mix
The base material is finely tuned to prevent sagging. In the future, Icon also plans to print materials such as insulating foams and plastic.
2. Energy Efficiency
The Vulcan runs on six electric motors that require only 240 volts of powerâ€”roughly the same as a clothes dryerâ€”so it wonâ€™t overwhelm fragile power grids in developing countries or disaster zones.
3. Flexible Design
Slicer software is used to interpret digital blueprints that plot points in three-dimensional space. Code can be written for any type and size of building.
The lightweight aluminum frame disassembles quickly for easy transport. It’s stabilized by triangular trusses, allowing the printer to emit concrete with 1/4 inch of the points laid out in the plans.
5. Moveable Tracks
The printer rolls back and forth along 10-inch-wide tracks, which are repositioned as the home rises. There’s no limit to how long the wall can be.
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