3D Printed Homes by Icon Build

Advanced 3D Printed Homes by Icon Build

Foreword by Ian Thompson, Editor

We’re delighted to share a truly insightful video featuring the one and only Matt Risinger, our guest author, and a renowned expert in the construction industry. In this video, Matt gives us a unique tour of Icon Skunk Works, a trailblazing company based in Austin, Texas, pioneering the construction of 3D printed homes.

During this tour, Matt delves into Icon’s groundbreaking work with 3D printed homes. Their innovative approach utilizes a giant robotic arm, named Phoenix, to bring the concept of 3D printed homes to life. Matt’s comprehensive knowledge and insightful questioning provide us with a deeper understanding of the process and immense potential of 3D printed homes.

Matt’s tour offers an in-depth look into the cost-effectiveness of building 3D printed homes and the environmental benefits of using Icon’s Carbon X material. His enthusiasm and curiosity about 3D printed homes are palpable, making this cutting-edge technology accessible and engaging for all viewers.

I hope you enjoy this video, as I did, and take an up-close look at how 3D printed homes are set to revolutionize the construction industry.

Advanced 3D Printed Homes by Icon Build

Video Transcript

Check it out; we’re in Austin, Texas, at The Icon Skunk Works. Behind me is a house that got printed with a giant robotic arm. Let’s get going.

Alright, y’all, I got authorized to check this out and show you guys the first building from Icon printed with a brand new printer. I’ve got Spencer from Icon, who’s going to give us the full tour.

“Spencer, what is this building?”

“Matt, welcome. It’s our first print using our robotic arm that we call Phoenix. So we’ve been to your job sites before, Spencer, and your other ones were the VIN printer, which had two rails and kind of looked just like a home 3D printer on massive steroids. This guy, on the other hand, kind of looks like a cobra striking where it needs to on the job. Is that right?”

“It is, it is. We thought Cobra might be a little strong, so we called it Phoenix, but it’s a giant robotic arm. The other printers are a Gantry printer. This arm is in one spot and printed this giant building from one location.”

“That’s right. Right here in the middle, it printed 110 ft wide and went 27 ft tall. Holy cow, the whole thing, even the backside?”

“Even the backside. That’s wild. How long did it take?”

“It took us about 400 hours of Total print time. That was with a print operator sitting in a trailer watching everything happen on a screen. So, literally not anybody adjusting the arm or doing anything on site, just somebody from an operations Booth.”

“Basically that’s correct. We did put in some vertical and horizontal reinforcement along the path there, but generally, yeah, they sat there and watched the print.”

“That’s wild. Now, Icon has been in the news a bunch over the years because you guys have contracts with NASA. You’re thinking about and already talking about printing these things on the moon. I suspect this new unit is going to have a lot to do with that.”

“That’s right. It’s amazing how the technology feeds on each other and helps each other. And if I’m remembering correctly, I heard a stat about the moon printer that it’s basically using the same version of lava Creed, but you’re sourcing materials from the Moon. And what’s the PSI on that?”

“Well, that is a material that we gather from the Moon and actually build there, using the materials on the moon. It’s a 60,000 PSI material. 60,000 PSI, multiply that by 144, and if I do the math right, that’s about 8 million PB per square foot. And the gravity on the moon is a quarter of the Earth’s gravity. So it’s about 50,000 lb per square foot if you’re printing on the moon with the tech that you’ve got.”

“So, what’s interesting about that for me as an American Builder is we’ve got a company here that’s doing totally different housing. You guys are changing the face of what housing is going to look like in America over the next decade, or maybe five decades. And you’re using that Tech that’s happening on the moon to bring it down to American houses. That’s pretty cool.”

“That’s really great. So the last question I’ve got for you is, when we think about your Tech as a roof design, right? Because now we’re printing domes, we’re printing the whole thing. We don’t need like what I saw in your Wolf Ranch project up in Georgetown; that was printed walls but then a more traditional truss roof. This is the full printed exterior building, right? You can do the full envelope, Foundation to roof?”

“That’s pretty crazy. Now, how do we waterproof this? Will this absorb water? You know, when we start printing roofs, is there something else we got to do to it?”

“Yeah, I think everyone will understand that concrete generally absorbs water over time, but our walls are waterproof. They’re solid concrete in multiple layers, and we can also apply any type of finish to the outside such as a waterproof paint. We block fill to smooth it out a bit, and then we also can apply a clear finish that is UV protectant and also waterproof.”

“And then the stucco that I’m seeing here, was that 3D printed as well?”

“It was not. That was applied by hand, but our substrate is a great material to go over the top of. So, in other words, we could basically take this building, smooth it all with stucco on the outside, and you’d have no idea it was 3D printed. It would look like any other Adobe or regular stucco house in America.”

“Right, that’s correct. And many of the builders and clients that are asking us to build for them are asking for smooth walls with this material.”

“That’s pretty wild. So, this was the very first one of this type of printer for you guys that operates in a single location and has a robotic arm. How long till this becomes more common or till other builders might be building with this?”

“Yeah, so we’re actually taking orders right now for the printer and booking projects in 2026. So, the printer will be in the field and live really around the world in 2026.”

3D Printed Homes – Icon Build are leading the way

“Holy cow, so really 2 years from now. That’s not bad at all. Now, one thing I like about your printed walls is that Japanese architecture term wabisabi. Like it’s not perfect. If you look at this building, there’s some imperfections. The building almost has a fingerprint, I think I’ve heard you say, right? In the past. As this Tech gets better and better, I’m assuming that’ll get more kind of normalized. Is that true?”

“Yeah, this was an engineering demonstration with our new printer. It’s interesting to note that this is the very first thing that the new printer ever built. 110 ft wide, 27 ft tall. We found the same kind of print quality in our very first printers, and we’ve been able to dial it in to a really fine detail. That’s pretty wild.”

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“Now, during that 400-hour print, which was by the way 24/7, right? Like that printer was always operating for that full 400 hours. How much support did that printer need? Like, do you have a whole fleet of people with concrete trucks backing up to it or what?”

“No, we have one person that loads our materials into our hyperlocal mixer that we use called magma. So we really had one person operating the machine and then one person supporting on the site. So that flowable concrete, you guys call it lava creete, just one person’s dumping the raw materials into a robot that’s making that, a machine that’s making that.”

“Right, correct. Yeah, it’s got its own weather system or weather detection system, adjusts in real time, anything that it needs to make the concrete perfect. That’s wild. I mean, seeing the time-lapse of this getting built totally blew me away.”

“I really appreciate you giving me the tour. You guys unveiled some really interesting stuff at the South by Southwest Conference here in Austin, Texas. We got some other stuff, so stay tuned for a future video here at the Icon, where we’re going to look at some other crazy stuff these guys have sent out into the world.”

“Matt, welcome to print land. Alright, this is pretty cool. Love seeing the machines in action. This is training, I’m assuming, for you guys?”

“It’s training, it’s testing, it’s an overall playground. When we’re tired in the office, we come out here and print things.”

“That’s pretty awesome. And you got a couple of cool things going here. What are we looking at in front of us here?”

“You know how when we were over at the house of Phoenix, we talked about the kind of fingerprint that we put on the walls, that as we’re dialing in our print technology? This is a good example of our fourth-generation printer, the Gantry that we just looked at there, and how dialed we have these beads.”

“So this is the fourth version of that Vulcan printer, and this is way less wabisabi. There’s a little bit, maybe, but not much. These beads, they also look thicker than what I’ve seen in the past. Am I seeing that right, or am I?”

“That’s correct. Yeah, those are a typical bead has been about 3/4 of an inch. This one’s a little over an inch.”

“That’s pretty wild. I suspect that really speaks to the consistency of the material coming out of the nozzle as well, right?”

“That’s correct. Because if that material has any variation, then it’s going to dry differently as that printing goes from one, it might slump more, all those kinds of things.”

“Yeah, our technology has been really dialed. Our Material Sciences just on point, and we’re making a thing happen. That’s pretty awesome.”

“So when we drove in, you had a couple of really cool, almost like 3D sculptures. What were we seeing there?”

“Yeah, so there’s just no real limitation to what the printer can do. If you can design it, whether it’s curved, straight, or in between, the printer will be able to do it. So we’ve tried to design some structures that allow to have more structure there but less material, and that’s really what you were saying.”

“And I’m guessing that’s also to show Architects like here’s what we can do with this. We can do all kinds of things. I could almost see that sculpture being used as a security fence at a government building.”

“Very well could. You’d have a hard time driving a truck through that. It probably would resist other bad things happening in the building very much, even though it’s not necessarily a structural element necessarily for a building. Or it could be.”

“That’s right, it absolutely could be. And going back to your conversation or your discussion about the architect’s language, we try to show them that they can open up their aperture and their design eye and really take advantage of the technology and think about curves and think about enveloping spaces more so than they’ve been able to in the past.”

“So here’s a question for you that I know people watching are thinking. You know, is this really bringing the cost of construction down? I mean, all this expensive machinery, this looks like these houses would be crazy expensive. Have you guys addressed that at all?”

“Of course, yeah, we have. Through our work on our project at Wolf Ranch, we’ve been able to truly drive the cost down exponentially. When we’re looking forward, the Phoenix printer that we talked about, we will be building full walls, delivered for $25 a square foot.”

“Holy cow, that’s amazing. And then how about the full envelope, the full shell?”

“Yeah, full shell, foundation walls, and a full roof printed will be $80 a square foot. That’s very impressive. Those dollars really speak to me as a builder. And it is the truth. I mean, it really is happening. That’s pretty amazing.”

“Now we got something else to show around the corner, don’t we?”

“That’s correct. Let me show you. I’d like to introduce you to Alex, our CTO and founder.”

“Alex, we’ve met before. This is actually the OG brains behind the operation.”

“Yeah, that’s right, Alex. I’m impressed, man. You’ve come a long way. How many years ago was it that you founded the company?”

“Seven years ago, we actually started the company. A lot happened in seven years, for sure.”

“For sure. We’ve been very busy, for sure.”

“Yes, you have. Now, tell me about this wall, ’cause this really speaks to me, Alex.”

“Yeah, it’s very neat. So this is a basket weave pattern, which is very difficult to produce if you’re not using 3D printing technology, but very easy for us to produce. And what’s also really neat about it is that we printed it with our carbon X material. So this is our low carbon printable mix that we’re very proud of having developed.”

“So carbon X, this is a lower amount of Portland, I’m guessing, yeah, that’s right, than the standard mix that you guys use?”

“Exactly. And so when we use this material and we produce a home on a whole home basis, our embodied carbon is a little bit lower than a traditional stick framed house, which is very neat. And then on an operational carbon basis, we’re 8% lower. So this is like energy consumption over time. So you put these two stats together, and you end up with a just amazing product.”

“That’s really cool. Yeah, but you know what, no matter what, it’s beautiful.”

“Exactly, and I always say that houses that are ugly don’t last but beautiful houses get cared for. So if you’re going to build a house like this, it’s going to be around for a couple of hundred years.”

“We think so too. That’s really pretty. And is it literally just the head varying as it’s coming through?”

“Exactly, yeah. So it’s almost like a pretty ancient way of building in some ways, right? It’s just the print head kind of moves along here and changes position in X and Y, but keeps the velocity constant.”

“It looks to me like these are perfectly lined up though. Is that just speaking to how accurate the head is?”

“Yeah, so this is a lot of the R&D that we do here at Icon. It’s around having a very precise nozzle position at any given moment. But also, you know, maintaining the consistency of the material no matter what the temperature, no matter the incoming spec of the materials, we always are able to produce something that looks just like this. We’re really proud of this. That’s really neat, Alex.”

“You guys have come a long way, my friend. I appreciate it. Very impressive to see your Phoenix House, to hear all the updates. What a cool company. How can people learn more about you guys?”

“You can check out iconbuild.com. Tons of information on that site.”

“Alex, I really appreciate the tour, man. Super impressive. Guys, go check out Icon, their social media, their webpage. What a cool company. And in the meantime, if you’re not currently a subscriber, hit that subscribe button below. We’ve got new content here every Tuesday and every Friday. You know how I close out my videos, right?”

“Yep. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram. Otherwise, we’ll see you next time on the build show.”

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