When the U.S. government teams up with the private sector, it accomplishes some historic achievements. The Hoover Dam, the Manhattan Project and now the largest 3D-printed building in the Americas.
While there may not be a cool name for the project, the goal is pretty cool: three 5,700 square-foot buildings to be used as barracks on Fort Bliss, Texas, completed in just 10 months. It will be the largest 3D-printed building in the Americas.
The Department of Defense is partnering with ICON, an Austin, Texas-based construction firm that uses a proprietary, high-strength concrete called Lavacrete on the project. The company says Lavacrete can withstand extreme weather conditions, is much more energy efficient than concrete and can be printed at high speeds.
Most importantly, the 3D-printed materials are expected to last longer than traditional construction materials.
ICON uses a 46.5-foot-wide printer called Vulcan to print the materials. The 9,500-pound machine heats the Lavacrete and uses pressure to form it into layers. The layers correspond to the programmed blueprint designs. The machine in the video below can be seen forming a continuous stream of Lavacrete, layer by layer, until it forms the outline wall of the structure.
"Constructing facilities using this cutting-edge technology saves labor costs, reduces planning time, and increases the speed of construction of future facilities," Army Lt. Gen. Doug Gabram, commander of U.S. Army Installation Management Command, said in a statement.
The structure will still need humans to provide electrical wiring, plumbing, roofing and all the other skilled labor-based additions that make a house a home. The Vulcan doesn't do windows.
ICON's 3D printing method comes at a time when construction materials and workers are in short supply all over the United States. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) says that in 2021, more than 90% of builders reported delays and materials shortages. Meanwhile, 81% of construction firms have trouble filling both salaried and hourly craft positions, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
3D printing offers a solution to some of those issues. The machine doesn't require sleep, food or breaks, and there's no overtime pay required to work through the night.
Despite the advantages in cost and labor, the Fort Bliss project will be the first 3D-printed building that meets the Defense Department's Unified Facilities Criteria for additive concrete construction. There were no criteria for 3D-printed concrete walls before, so companies using 3D-printing techniques couldn't even bid for DoD projects.
The Department of Defense did not reveal the cost of the Fort Bliss barracks.
In August 2021, ICON constructed a 3,800 square-foot barracks for the Texas Military Department, which comprises Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard and Texas State Guard. Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the Texas Military Department adjutant general, told Stars and Stripes the cost of those barracks was about a third of the cost of a traditional structure.
The Texas Military Department’s barracks is the largest 3D-printed building in the Western Hemisphere -- until Fort Bliss’ barracks are finished printing, that is.
The world's largest 3D-printed structure is a government building in Dubai, printed by American construction company Apis Cor. The company built a two-floor, 6,900 square-foot structure with walls 31 feet high, using a 3D printer on a crane. That concrete project required just three construction workers.
ICON says its Lavacrete technology will not only last longer than traditional structures, it will build faster while keeping construction projects on schedule and on budget.
-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.