ICON Rolls out Suite of Construction 3D Printing Products at SXSW

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ICON, the Austin-based leader in additive construction (AC) innovation, announced a range of new products at 2024’s SXSW. Among other announcements, in an SXSW event presented by ICON called Domus Ex Machina, the company unveiled a new robotic construction system for multi-story structures (Phoenix), a digital catalog of “ready-to-print” homes (CODEX), a new printable concrete formula pitched as sustainable (CarbonX), and an AI-backed software platform for designing and building homes (Vitruvius).

Additionally, ICON provided an update on a major announcement from 2023: the company’s collaboration with design icon Liz Lambert, an expansion to the El Cosmico hotel and campground in Marfa, Texas. The expansion, which will break ground this year, will include winning designs from Initiative 99, a competition created by ICON and sponsored by Wells Fargo, which prompts contestants “to reimagine affordable housing that could be built for $99,000 or less without sacrificing beauty, dignity, comfort, sustainability, or resiliency.” ICON will also put some of Initiative 99’s winning designs in the CODEX catalog, which already includes over 60 designs in five different collections.

An example of ICON’s AI-driven home design

ICON’s also just released a new white paper in collaboration with MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, centered around a case study of CarbonX material. According to ICON, combining the company’s AC system with CarbonX — which ICON plans to start using in the field in April — results in the lowest carbon construction method on the market, in terms of all options that are immediately scalable.

In a press release about the suite of new construction 3D printing technologies announced by ICON at SXSW, the company’s co-founder and CEO, Jason Ballard, said, “In the future, I believe nearly all construction will be done by robots, and nearly all construction-related information will be processed and managed by AI systems. It is clear to me that this is the way to cut the cost and time of construction in half while making homes that are twice as good and more faithfully express the values and hopes of the people who live in them. We are going to need the same velocity of ambitious technological breakthroughs that we’ve experienced in these past few years, but we know where we are headed. Going forward, ICON is an AI and robotics company focused on transforming the way we build and accelerating what we believe is a very exciting future. Vitruvius will become the default method for ICON in designing custom homes. We intend to be selling and building Vitruvius-design homes beginning this year.”

Announcing AI-designed homes and publicly setting a deadline for actually building and selling those homes in the same year is exactly as bold as you’d expect an ICON announcement at its own SXSW event to be. Many will likely shudder at ICON’s willingness to go out on a limb, but I would like to see more CEOs in advanced manufacturing take their lead from Jason Ballard. I don’t even care if he fails! He should get credit for not worshipping at the altar of risk-aversion.

Instead of trying to regulate itself in advance, AM companies — as they’re in the process of scaling up — should start getting more proactive about getting the government to accelerate the industry’s standardization. For all of the outlandish things that ICON does, it also does many very prosaic things like building barracks for the US military. That project was the first 3D printed structure in compliance with the Pentagon’s Unified Facilities Criteria for the construction and design of 3D printed buildings. The company’s at the forefront of helping the government standardize may have more of a license to go big than their competitors.

Images courtesy of ICON.

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