3D concrete printer nears commercialization via Texas housing plan

A robotics-savvy, 3D concrete printing equipment developer eyeing affordable housing solutions will deploy its first commercial unit in partnership with a fellow Austin, Texas, business and like-minded real estate developer. Against the backdrop of last month’s 2019 South by Southwest Conference and Festivals (SXSW), Icon and Cielo Property Group announced commissioning of a printer for rapid delivery of modest (< 1,000 sq. ft.) but robust residences in the Texas capital city—one of the country’s hottest housing markets.

Vulcan concept

Compared to its predecessor, the Vulcan II printer is 2.5 times faster and features tablet-based controls, advanced UI, automated material mixing, and a four-times larger print area. It’s transported in a custom trailer along with the equivalent of a portable batch plant.
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The Austin-based Icon team poses in their lab where they’ve developed the Vulcan II printer, capable of printing 2,000-sq.-ft. homes with Lavacrete proprietary portland cement mix, 3D robotics, and an integrated tablet-based operating system. Photo: Regan Morton Photography

A gantry device engineered to traverse conventional slabs on grade, Icon’s 33- x 11.5-ft. Vulcan II printer will net walls up to 28 feet wide, 8.5 feet high and of unlimited depth for homes typically under 2,000 square feet. The three-sided machine supports a printer trolley whose nozzle places Lavacrete, a proprietary portland cement mix, in 1-in. high, 2-in. wide beads at 5 to 7 inches per second. Presumably dosed with rheology and viscosity modifying admixtures, the 6,000-psi mix is produced in the equivalent of a portable batch plant; dubbed Magma, it is transported along with the Vulcan II in a custom trailer. An integrated, tablet-based system controls all printer and batch plant aspects and is programmed, Icon officials note, to “capture real-time data down to the millisecond, enabling machine learning and predictive analytics so machines get smarter over time.”

“Vulcan II is ready to move out of Icon’s lab and into the world to begin its very good work of delivering affordable, resilient, dignified housing around the world,” says Jason Ballard, co-founder and CEO of Icon. “Vulcan II is the first printer of its kind in that it has the capability of printing homes in which people actually want to live. It can be operated by anyone with basic training thanks to the improvements in automation, mechatronics and specialized software.”

Icon anticipates mid-year Vulcan II deployments in Austin along with an affordable housing venture in Latin America. The machine builds on the scale and speed of a predecessor version, whose potential for rapid, tight tolerance placement of mortar-like concrete was demonstrated in Chicon House. The proof-of-concept Austin project was built in weeks, billed as the first 3D-printed concrete home in the U.S., and spotlighted during the 2018 SXSW gathering. It enjoyed additional exposure this year thanks to a visit from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson a day prior to Conference and Festivals opening. www.iconbuild.com, www.cielopropertygroup.com