Robot Prints Houses One Wall at a Time


Billed as the world’s biggest free-form 3D printer, the machine can build walls like the body builds bones, is "prettier" than previous attempts at printing 10 houses in one day and is “more realistic” than printing a bridge in midair.

Those are a few of the comments from a tech startup in Chattanooga, TN, according to a recent article in Gizmodo.

Enter Branch Technology, the company whose founder has said he has figured out how to build walls stronger, cheaper and faster than conventional stud walls while using conventional construction materials.

“When geometry is not an issue, you can do almost anything,” Branch founder and CEO Platt Boyd told Gizmodo. “If an architect can send us an original design file we can fabricate that.”

What’s Inside that Counts

As Gizmodo points out, only the wall’s inside structure comes out of the 3D printer. When completed, the fabricated “scaffolding” then can be sent to a construction site, where Boyd says they “fit together like a Lego.” Traditional construction materials then can be applied to the structure, which makes it look like a normal wall when complete.

“Modern buildings are always systems that come together to form a composite assembly,” Boyd told Fortune magazine. “We’re saying: how little can we 3D print and allow these other materials to become the strength of the wall assembly?”

Branch Technology

An LEED-certified architect started the company, which he says can print 20 houses per year. The company also says it can print walls faster and cheaper while using traditional construction materials.

The answer, Boyd told Fortune, is that a 2-and-a-half-pound matrix wall assembly with spray foam applied to the outside can support a little less than 3,000 pounds. But it also costs between $80 to $140 per square foot to build, as opposed to the thousands it sometimes can cost.

Branch said it can print 20 houses per year in its current setup and hopes to expand someday.

As Gizmodo notes, the company—which officially launched in July at Chattanooga’s Gigtank Demo Day—is off to a good start. It won the Gigtank Investor’s Choice Award and announced its first design competition for building houses.

Designed by Architects

That’s something Boyd knows about. According to Branch’s website, the company founder is also an experienced, LEED-certified, architect. His bio on the startup’s site says that “His frustration with the design and economic constraints imposed by traditional building techniques, fascination with the natural world and interest in both 3D printing and robotics led him to found Branch Technology and challenge the status quo.”

The industry leader has surrounded himself with another architect, an engineer and material science guru to weave together the company’s internal matrix.

Without the restrictions of traditional, rectangular geometric designs, Gizmodo reports that Branch is testing out wall shapes that are more interesting. Eventually, the media outlet reports, the company hopes it will have a library of software files to choose from once architects have ordered more walls from them.

“We want to be the Shapeways of architecture,” Boyd told Gizmodo, referring to the on-demand 3D printing factory for smaller designs.

‘The Forces of Nature’

Fortune said Branch is making that happen with $900,000 in startup capital. Much of that came from Boyd’s own 401K.

And for now, the company is going to stick with what it knows it can do.

“What we’re focusing on right now are those interior walls and those exterior walls,” Boyd told Fortune. “Eventually, roofs. But you have to see something at scale to see it work, and know that it can withstand the forces of nature.”


Tagged categories: 3D printing; 3D Printing; Architects; Architecture; Building Envelope; Commercial / Architectural; Commercial Construction; Commerial/Architectural; Construction; Modernist architecture; North America; Residential Construction; Robotics; Technology

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