Largest 3D-Printed Structure in North America Used by U.S. Service Members for Training

Energy efficient housing is built at increased speeds.

The Texas Military Department (TMD) and Austin construction company ICON announced a project that will see ICON design and 3D print training barracks at the Camp Swift Training Center in Bastrop, Tex. The barracks will be the largest 3D-printed structure in North America, boasting 3,800 square feet and able to hold up to 72 soldiers. This will also be the first instance of soldiers living in 3D-printed barracks.

Logan Architecture designed the barracks structure, while structural firm Fort Structures provided engineering services. Printing a large structure instead of using traditional building and construction processes has several benefits, but the benefits realized first are increased speed of building and reduced costs. The TMD expects that this pilot program can be replicated in other military applications.

When the National Guard is deployed to provide humanitarian assistance or disaster relief, its temporary barracks are often difficult and slow to erect and then often stay up long past their intended life expectancy. These printed barracks are expected to cost less over the life of a project and help local communities recover more quickly in the event of a disaster.

Concept for 3D-printed barracks. (Image courtesy of ICON.)

Concept for 3D-printed barracks. (Image courtesy of ICON.)

ICON Continues to Move Forward with 3D-Printed Construction

In May 2021, ICON unveiled House Zero and its new iteration of the Vulcan construction process. House Zero is a home with more than 2,000 square feet of living space that was designed as a 3D-printed structure, allowing the architects to take advantage of the sustainability and energy efficient properties of additive manufacturing.

The heart of the Vulcan construction system is a huge 9,500-pound 3D printing gantry that the company claims can be controlled from an application downloaded to mobile devices. The system can print up to 36.5 feet wide, 10.5 feet high, and (theoretically) an infinite length. The machine prints at a speed of 5 to 10 inches per second. ICON has built two dozen homes in the U.S. and Mexico, with more projects in the pipeline. There’s no question that the service project aspects of the disaster relief and social housing structures are valuable, but ICON is also innovating in other frontiers.

The company is building Mars Dune Alpha, a 1,700-square-foot habitat used by NASA to simulate what life will be like on Mars. The Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) is a series of three missions, each lasting one year at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The project is accepting applications right now for the first one-year mission scheduled to begin in fall 2022.

What Does It All Mean?

Creating the largest 3D-printed structure in North America is a huge feat. However, it’s the kind of record that is made to be broken. There will be another largest structure soon, and then another still larger. The innovation here is taking this new technology and applying it to both military and humanitarian applications. ICON and the Texas Military are using engineering to make the world a better place.

ICON is taking its time to build a reputation, using high-profile architecture firms to design aesthetics into its projects and using structural engineering firms to ensure that the projects are correctly engineered. The social engineering aspect of the company also must be examined, though. Gary O’Dell from 3Strands says that the fundamental issue with the housing market in America is a lack of supply. A four-home development was constructed in East Austin using the Vulcan construction method. In all, 50 homes of 500 square feet each were built in Tabasco, Mexico, for low-income families using the Vulcan construction system and taking only 24 hours each to construct.

These military barracks are designed to be safe, comfortable, and long lasting (in place for decades). The TMD hopes that the project will convince other military units to review the way they build both temporary and permanent structures. Whether or not this is a true paradigm shift for the construction industry will take time to determine, but this first project is expected to be ready in fall 2021 and should give us a great indicator of things to come.

The large-scale printer at work. (Image courtesy of ICON.)

The large-scale printer at work. (Image courtesy of ICON.)