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Imagine an industrial-sized 3D printer pouring concrete like icing on a cake. The machine lays the concrete layer by layer, and when it’s finished, a strong and proper house is standing.
This kind of stand-alone technology could be the answer to the housing shortage in Iowa. And a new partnership involving Iowa Central Community College and Iowa State University aims to find out.
The board of directors of the Iowa Economic Development Authority recently approved a $ 1.4 million grant to the College of Design at Iowa State University for the 3D Affordable Innovation Technologies housing project, which will support the development of a 3D printed housing industry in Iowa.
As part of this effort, Iowa Central will be home to a new state-of-the-art 3D printer over the next several months at its eastern campus, 2031 Quail Ave. Starting in fall 2023, Iowa Central will begin training students in the use of the new technology through its carpentry program.
“The state of Iowa will provide this (3D printer) and a lot of the research and development,” said Dan Oswald, Iowa Central woodworking instructor. “The role of Iowa Central will be to train the workforce for this. This will actually put boots on the ground for the technology that the ISU is testing. “
Pete Evans, an assistant professor in the Iowa State Department of Industrial Design, is leading the project. Evans, an architect, said the 3D printing app could speed up the construction process.
“This new 21st century technology will revolutionize the residential construction industry”, Evans said. “We’re trying, through a multi-stakeholder partnership, to make sure the industry disruption is as smart as possible for the state of Iowa and its citizens.
“It’s not just about getting a machine and doing something, it’s going to be something where we build the ecosystem around it to support multiple technologies so the workforce is ready to go. with this technology as best we can anticipate. “
3D PRINTING HAS BEEN FOR decades, according to Evans. However, it was only relatively recently that it was used for large-scale projects like building a house.
“It’s not something that could have spread outside of a lab until about eight or nine years ago,” Evans said. “Seven or eight years ago there were little off-the-shelf plastic printing machines that you could buy. Today, these machines are everywhere. You can go out and buy on Amazon and build them yourself. People do it like crazy.
“But the technology to adapt that to housing really started in 2014 or 2015 in China, I believe. It took that long to go through different countries and companies to be able to start being viable. I think the first examples started popping up in Minnesota four or five years ago, but housing technology only a year or two ago. We’re not slow at the start line here. It’s a brand new app.
Leaders from Iowa Central and Iowa State met over the summer to discuss a potential partnership.
Oswald and Bill McAnally, high performance building consultant and former Iowa Central instructor, attended the meeting co-hosted by the Iowa State University College of Design and the Iowa Economic Development Authority on June 18 at the Student Innovation Center located on the ISU campus in Ames. High performance construction methods were discussed during the meeting.
McAnally realized that Iowa Central would be able to provide logistics, printer housing, maintenance, programming, and construction assistance.
“We wanted Iowa Central to be the first in this state to carry out this type of project”, McAnally said.
Jesse Ulrich, president of Iowa Central, saw it as a great opportunity for college.
“As Iowa Central continues to be a leader in providing workforce solutions, this partnership with the State of Iowa will allow us to expand our degree opportunities for students.” said Ulrich. “It will also provide our students with the opportunity to make a positive difference by providing affordable housing to communities in the state of Iowa. “
Neale Adams, Iowa’s central dean of business and industrial technology, believes self-reliance will continue to reshape the construction industry.
“We want to make sure that we educate students for the jobs that will be available to them in the future, not always for what awaits them now” Adams said. “They need their basic building skills. They must be able to know how a house is built. But just like in manufacturing, automation and robotics have picked up. Robotics is common in the manufacturing sector and we believe that in the future it will likely be common in the construction industry as well. If we are not meeting the needs of these students on what the industry is going to do, then we are not serving them in the educational way that we should. “
ONE OF THE FIRST STEPS will be the acquisition of the 3D printer. Evans said it would take between four and eight months to order, acquire and test the machine.
The estimated cost of an industrial-size 3D printer is at least $ 500,000, Evans said.
The project receives funding from several sources, including state and federal grants.
McAnally, who has over 40 years of experience in the construction industry, feels a sense of urgency for Iowa and the United States to evolve in his construction methods.
“We really need to do this type of technology and training to keep up with the rest of the world”, McAnally said. “Europe and Canada seem to be ahead of us in construction technology. We need to step it up a bit. Build houses that will be at least 100 years old.
Typically 15 to 40 students enroll in the Iowa Central Carpentry Program per semester. This last semester started with 18 students.
The opportunity to work with cutting edge technology could attract more students to the program.
“They are more enthusiastic about working with technology”, McAnally said. “I think the excitement will kick in. When you see a 3D printer, the first thing you think of is, ‘There are no borders.’ You can do whatever you want. With houses, there are no limits.
“I think the architects would be so excited because you are not limited by the constraints of the materials like certain widths, thicknesses or shapes. You can do whatever you want.
McAnally is impressed with the precision of 3D printing.
“One of the great things is the precision of this machine” he said. “You can adapt to the environment or the particular designs required for that area.
“With a pumper truck, there are about 10 people using rakes and trying to level it. You are doing your best, but unless you bring something like that or a laser level, it depends on the skills of the worker.
THE SPEED AT WHICH A HOUSE can be built using 3D printing technology is something to see. This speed could prove useful for communities affected by natural disasters.
Some companies claim they can print a 1,900 square foot home in under 48 hours. It’s something that Iowa State and Iowa Central are going to put to the test.
“It would be a type of construction that could be done quickly”, Evans said. “Being able to print recovery slots. We are in a world where we have to be careful about our impact on the community and the material world. It is a type of construction that could be done quickly in the event of a disaster. We are trying to do this with the concept of affordable housing as the central tenant.
Evans said the college’s first demonstration project would be completed in Hamburg, a city of less than 2,000 people in southern Iowa. Hamburg has been hit by extreme flooding in recent years.
Brunow Contracting, of Council Bluffs, and BNIM Architects, of Kansas City, will work on the Hamburg project.
Projects like this will allow the ISU to measure the efficiency of 3D printed homes.
“There are claims about the effectiveness and efficiency that we are going to test to make Iowa real to make sure this is an appropriate solution,” Evans said. “It’s important to understand that this is replacing other technologies like framing and we need to be able to see that side by side with that or other efficient types of construction like structurally insulated panels. “
The hope is that 3D printing will be a game changer in an industry facing many challenges.
“Iowa and the United States have a housing shortage” Evans said. “It tries to find ways to meet the needs of the workforce and the needs of the community for affordable housing. We must try to do everything we can to improve this process. 3D building printing and other 21st century tech that we’ll be looking at will hopefully prove to be a better case for affordable housing right here in Iowa directly. “