3D 'house' printing company ICON unveils new 'Vulcan II' printer

"Vulcan II is the moment where 3D printing is no longer just a prototype but it's actually a product," said Austin-based "ICON" CEO and Co-Founder Jason Ballard.  

Monday was the big unveiling of their latest 3D "house" printer, the Vulcan II. 

"It can print 4 times larger buildings, it's 2.5 times faster, it has tablet-based controls," Ballard said. 

The Vulcan I printed a 350-square foot house in East Austin in just under 50 hours for around $10,000.  Just last week U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson toured the prototype home.  

"All we have to do if we really want to experience great success is get out of their way.  The government should be helping to facilitate these things," Carson said.  

As Ballard mentioned, with the Vulcan II they can print bigger: up to 2,000 square feet, ICON says.  

When you hit "print," the Vulcans deposit a special concrete blend layer by layer.  

Ballard says in a head-to-head competition with traditional building methods...

"We believe we'd be about 30% cheaper.  The big goal of ICON is half-price housing.  I don't want to represent that we're there yet but it does seem like a thing that we believe we can achieve," Ballard said.

"To the City of Austin, this is your 3D printer dedicated to printing affordable homes," said Bobby Dillard, CEO of Cielo Property Group.

They commissioned the Vulcan II just for Austin.

"If you're looking for a place to put that $250 million this is a big opportunity to start printing houses for people to live in really quickly," Ballard said.  

He's talking about the $250 million in affordable housing bond money voters approved last November.  I asked Council Member Jimmy Flannigan how that process is coming.  He says it's a big amount so they're making sure to get it right.

"For us to go out and actually build affordable housing, which is really the best way to get affordable housing, is to have the city ensure that it gets built," Flannigan said.  

Flannigan says ideas like ICON's could be a good opportunity where there is limited land or limited ability to go taller.

"When you talk about the construction cost or the construction speed which is something like that solution addresses...it doesn't address issues of density, or the amount of units you can get on a single square of land.  So those are going to be good solutions in areas where you can only build a single unit to begin with but it's not appropriate solution if you're building a larger complex that has affordable housing," Flannigan said.

"We're ready.  We just need customers and projects.  We just want to get out there printing houses because ultimately we can't fix this affordable housing problem without fixing the supply...there has to be more resilient, affordable homes.  Period," Ballard said.