Robots, drones, and now 3D printers. A start-up called Mighty Buildings takes the concept to the extreme, planning to automate up to 80% of the construction process at its factories using 3D printing. It claims to be able to produce structures with 95% less man-hours and twice as fast as conventional construction.
It is as much a story of materials science as it is a story of robots. The increased automation is achieved by a proprietary composite material used by Mighty Buildings 3D printers. The company can print more of the building structure than before, including overhangs and roof structures. Robots help add interior and exterior finishes, while humans have to take care of details that are still beyond the reach of production-scale automation.
This kind of production line can actually rely on the car production system. The difference is that 3D printing reduces the need for standardization that hangs over traditional automation, leaving room for design variation even within a production-oriented operation.
3D printing combined with prefabrication
This is not the first time that 3D printing has been used for structures. In 2018, researchers from the University of Nantes unveiled a prototype of a house built by a robot and printed in 3D. The house, which took about 18 days to build, was made from a combination of polymer and concrete, which Nantes researchers said would keep it insulated for decades.
But Mighty Buildings extended this concept to a commercial enterprise. By combining 3D printing and prefabrication, he created what appears to be a highly automated and efficient process.
The innovative approach and the efficiency gains in terms of time (a studio can be printed in less than 24 hours) and money (houses obviously cost up to 45% less than comparable houses built of wood) have attracted investment and praise. The company graduated from Y Combinator in the winter of 2018 and raised a total of $ 30 million from Khosla Ventures, Y Combinator, SV Angel and CoreVC, among others. It is also certified under the California Factory Built Housing program and was the first company to achieve certification under UL 3401 for the evaluation of 3D printed building structures and assemblies.
Alternative to classical construction?
The hardest part now is bringing 3D printed houses to the market. So far, Mighty Buildings has installed its first two housing units in San Ramon and San Diego, with more units awaiting delivery. But the concept is promising, especially given the rising cost of housing and the housing shortage in major American cities.
“With a solid foundation in robotics, manufacturing and sustainability, the founding team of Mighty Buildings knows the different facets of the problems facing modern housing,” said Eric Migicovsky, partner at Y Combinator.