Exploring the Potential of 3D Printing in Addressing North Texas’ Affordable Housing Crisis

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On a bright winter day in Kaufman, located southeast of Dallas, a team of construction workers are erecting a barn on a remote rural property. However, this isn’t your average construction project.

Instead of utilizing traditional tools like hammers and power drills, most of the work is being accomplished by a robot.

“The simplest way to explain it would be to imagine a robot equipped with a soft serve ice cream cone dispenser,” explains Craig Pettit, CEO of Printed Technologies, a firm that specializes in constructing 3D printed houses. “We’re extruding concrete in a similar manner as an ice cream machine would.”

As North Texas experiences unprecedented development, entrepreneurs like Pettit aim to address the escalating housing affordability issue by employing such revolutionary, automated technologies.

Pettit and his business associate Lance Thrailkill mention that their team is persistently enhancing the concrete mixture utilized for 3D printing.

“The aspect we’ve consistently been evolving with is varied mixtures and each blend is unique,” expressed Thrailkill. “The printing outcome varies and the drying process can be faster or slower, contingent on the quantity of water incorporated.”

So far, the corporation has constructed a minimum of six edifices using a 3D printer, this includes residences, all over North Texas.

Thrailkill articulated that the emerging technology could possibly revolutionize the real estate industry soon. This is one of the motives prompting his investment in the enterprise.

“We really want to help solve the affordable housing crisis here in America and really, worldwide,” he said.

Currently, the expense of 3D printing a home parallels that of conventional construction techniques. Pettit indicates that numerous startups, like Printed Technologies, are striving to innovate a more cost-effective method of construction.

“One of my endeavors over the past three years is to simplify all aspects of the technology in order to make it user-friendly to set up and take down,” Pettit stated.

Tim Landau, another pioneer in the industry and the owner and CEO of Hive 3D Builders, has potentially constructed one of the most expansive single-family homes using a 3D printer in Burton, east of Austin.

Like Thrailkill, Landau says what sparked his interest in 3D printing was trying to solve the affordability gap.

“That gap is, you know, specifically, it’s the difference between what the median income person can afford for a house and what the median price for a house is,” Landau said.

Another issue is the supply gap — how many houses are on the market. A recent report found Dallas alone needs as many as 60,000 more homes to meet demand.

“It’s kind of a solvable problem,” Laundau said. “You know, your big production builders, they can ramp up and build more houses to close that gap.”

But when newly constructed homes cost more than half a million dollars, Landau believes the only answer is to take a distinct path.

“The indicators point towards additional automation, be it 3D printing or other automated methods to bridge those disparities,” said Landau.

3D printing also decreases the headcount required to build a home. Generally, it requires a team of two to four people.

The process is also faster — Printed Technologies can print the frame of a 1,700-square-foot residence 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.

The association’s representative suggested that the technology carries the potential to address the persistent issues of housing and labor shortages.

Landau posited two possible trajectories for the industry — it could turn into a specialized sector for those who can afford tailor-made 3D printed residences. Alternatively, should businesses discover how to reduce the additional expenses, it might transform into the default option.

It’s a future Lance Thraillkill, of Printed Technologies, sees as plausible.

“In the coming half to full decade, I expect it to be adopted across the entirety of the US, and globally,” he projected. “The degree of its acceptance would be contingent 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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