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  • Writer's pictureBrian Trotter

The 3-D Printed Neighborhood

The 3-D printer is so much more than a toy for techies. It's already revolutionizing medical devices and education, and innovators are looking to deploy 3-D printing technology at larger and larger scales. Despite some ambitious announcements, we're still a ways off from a 3-D printed skyscraper. But an Austin company is patenting technology that could 3-D print an entire neighborhood in no time.

Icon Technology has been in the large-scale 3-D printing business for a number of years, and the company was just granted US Patent 10851538. It may have a boring name -- "Systems and methods for the construction of structures" -- but the technology is revolutionary. Imagine a single flatbed truck arriving on-site with a 3-D printer ready for action. There's a vertical support that travels on rails along a pre-poured foundation and prints out the structure. It all sets up like this:

That big support structure moves along those rails (marked '312' in the figure), and the printer apparatus hangs off the top and prints out the structure. The printer apparatus moves up and down and across the foundation as the structure is built. Free tip -- impress your friends, that vertical support structure is called a 'gantry crane'. You're welcome.

When it's all done, you've got a single building, or a whole line of structures on that foundation, just like this:

What's shown in the drawing looks more like temporary accommodations, but as long as all the foundations are aligned, I don't know why you couldn't print a whole street of houses with yards and standard lots. Once one house is finished, the whole rig would just progress down the rails to the next foundation and start printing the next house. Pretty cool.

With all the relocation happening in 2020, there's a real housing crunch as work-from-home orders enable people to leave higher-cost areas for locations with lower cost of living. Even as a stop-gap for this recent migration, quick housing options like this could really expand options for people looking to get started in new areas.

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