Yet another additive construction startup is joining the increasingly competitive, yet still niche segment. Diamond Age is presenting itself as a “full stack robotics” firm aiming to automate the construction of homes using 3D printing and a suite of robotic arms. The concept was enough to have a number of investors bite, leading to an $8 million seed round led by Prime Movers Lab and Alpaca VC. Other investors included Family Ventures, Calm Ventures, Gaingels, Towerview Ventures, GFA Venture Partners, and Suffolk Construction.
Diamond Age is in the process of developing 26 end-of-arm robotic tools to reduce manual labor required to build a new home by 55 percent, in turn cutting construction time from nine months to 30 days. These are paired with a gantry-based 3D printing process for laying down concrete walls.
The company envisions the use of numerous gantries that are deployed to a construction site, such as a development housing project. After 3D printing the walls of a home, a quality assurance scanning tool mounted onto the 3D printer performs an inspection. Then, a cutting tool is attached to make the openings for windows, doors, electrical and plumbing connections. Next, a texturing tool is deployed to spray the interior with plaster or gypsum dry wall material.
The funding will be used to scale up the firm’s robotics platform and build a 1,100 square foot demonstration home. The future is on-demand home building, Diamond Age suggests.
“Construction is still an antiquated industry that has yet to experience the full benefit of technology; it is plagued with inefficiency and massive labor shortages,” said Prime Movers Lab General Partner Suzanne Fletcher. “Diamond Age is building a truly transformative system that will change the buying and building of new production homes forever.”
It is interesting to note the lack of labor in this instance, given the fact that there was a 6.1% unemployment rate in the U.S. construction sector as of July 2021, similar to the national average overall. Dubai is also turning to additive amid protests from guest workers in the construction industry. While the construction industry in the U.S. has not seen large-scale work stoppages recently, the COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented interruptions in construction around the country, perhaps spurring further interest in automation technology. Moreover, the industry has its own significant migrant worker population (roughly 15 percent) that could lead to future political momentum for greater rights.
“We spent a lot of time in the 3D printing and robotic building space looking for the right team and the right go-to-market that could really become a category-changing and defining company within the real estate construction space,” said Ryan Freedman, General Partner at Alpaca VC. “We identified a tremendous opportunity in the amount of efficiency there is to bring in terms of time, quality and labor to the homebuilding market. When we met Jack & Russell, we knew this was the team with the vision and the technical expertise to change the game.”
Like many additive construction companies, this one also claims that 3D printing could impact the affordable housing shortage.
Jack Oslan, Co-Founder and CEO of Diamond Age, said, “The affordable housing shortage is a national problem that I want to help solve because it is deeply personal to me. A few years ago, my son and daughter-in-law almost moved away from the Bay Area because of the housing shortage. We need to build high quality affordable single-family homes for the next generation striving for the American dream, and the only way we can solve this problem is with automation.”
While it’s possible that 3D printing may have some effect on the cost of homes, particularly for accessory dwelling units, the real solution to addressing home prices is the commodification of housing itself, according to the Co-Director at the Council of Community Housing Organizations in San Francisco.
However, before we can get to the point where we have some idea of the impact that 3D printing will have on the construction industry, we have to see the technology actually take off. There are numerous firms in the space at the moment, such as ICON and Mighty Buildings, promising many of the same things. A few, like PERI Group, have performed full-scale projects to showcase the feasibility of the technology. We’ve even seen a couple of 3D printed homes hit the market.
But we’re still early stages and hearing a lot of promises from startups. At the very least, the technology has garnered interest from substantial construction firms, like Saint-Gobain and LafargeHolcim. GE is using additive construction for wind turbine bases. This seems to indicate that it could be a viable technology, particularly to complement or supplant concrete formworks. Will it be used substantially to 3D print entire buildings? If so, will it dramatically affect the housing industry? Will anyone address the massive carbon footprint of concrete?
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