VULCANS PRINT 3D HOMES
Amatch made in high-tech heaven was unveiled recently when Icon (a design and construction company)
announced its partnership with New Story (a San Francisco
based nonprofit that invests in international housing
solutions) to deploy a 3D printer capable of manufacturing
an 800 square foot house in under 24 hours for less than
Yes, it’s an ambitious project, but one that has a bit of a
headstart. Icon brought a fully functional 3D printed model
that demonstrates how the company can produce a low-cost
livable home designed to function with zero waste, and work
under constraints such as limited water, power, or labor to
this year’s SXSW (South by Southwest® Conference). Icon
won the SXSW Accelerator “Pitch Event,” receiving $4,000
and vital exposure to potential investors and constituents in
the housing market.
New Story is an ideal test platform for the new 3D
printing technology as it’s a non-profit that already has deep
roots in communities in Mexico, Haiti, El Salvador, and Bolivia.
In just three years, the non-profit has funded more than
1,300 homes for families in need at a cost of about $6,500.
New Story — supported by Y Combinator and other
backers — works on a model that guarantees all funds
collected go to build homes. Icon intends to use the model
as an office in its own backyard so it can experience what it’s
like to spend long amounts of time in the small space and
tweak the design accordingly.
Each house can be assembled by just two to four
workers. New Story insists on manufacturers using a concept
known as “participatory design,” meaning that their
“customers” have an active role in sharing their needs before
a build, so everyone involved can solve real problems. New
Story also uses a streamlined non-invasive approach to
evaluating each project so that each new community they
raise is better than the last one.
Using advanced robotics, cutting-edge materials, and
proprietary software, Icon enables families to have options
for different designs based on factors like terrain, climate, and
family size. The actual “printer” is called the Vulcan and is
built out of lightweight aluminum with a built-in backup
One challenge was developing a proprietary building mix
using concrete that could be managed by the Vulcan, but also
suit New Story’s requirements which include no exotic
materials that might have to be imported. The mortar (which
must be sourced from local materials) has to be thin enough
to flow through the 3D printer but thick enough to support
the building structure. The mix has to cure relatively quickly
but if it’s cured too fast, the walls won’t fuse together
properly. Heavy rain and other challenges in cleaning slowed
the company during its research and development phase.
Icon’s future goals are equally lofty. The manufacturer
would like to develop robots capable of installing different
assets like doors or windows, as well as drones that could
spray-paint the exterior walls. Icon is also testing the Vulcan
and other equipment to investigate the potential to print
roofs as well.
Eventually, Icon would like to construct homes to
alleviate the housing crisis in the United States too.
24 SERVO 05/06.2018