July 30, 2015 | By Simon

It’s no secret that one of the hottest conversations centered around 3D printing these days is the technology’s potential applications for architects and the construction industry.  While there may not be as many printers designed for architects creating large structures as there are for desktop makers creating housings for their Raspberry Pi project, developments are being made with each passing day towards making 3D printed buildings a true reality.  

Among others who think that they can change the future of building construction and design with 3D printing include Platt Boyd, Chief Executive Officer of Branch Technology. With over 15 years dedicated to a career in architecture, Boyd certainly knows a thing or two about what it takes to get a project off the ground - literally.  

His startup, Branch Technology, was born out of the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based GIGTANK seed-stage accelerator and is focused on 3D printing open matrices that can provide the internal  structures necessary for creating 3D printed homes, commercial buildings and other structures.

Like most other startups, the idea for the business came without warning during a late night sketch session with a 3Doodler 3D printing pen.  While playing with the pen, Boyd drew a 3D matrix that became the starting point for what would later become the road towards establishing Branch Technology.     

“Something that weighed a half an ounce supported 18 pounds of books,” he explains.

“Modern buildings are always systems that come together to form a composite assembly … how little can we 3D print and allow these other materials to become the strength of the wall assembly?”

Now, over a year and a half later, Boyd has refined the Branch Technology strategy into an additive manufacturing method that he calls ‘cellular fabrication’.  The method utilizes a freeform 3D printer that prints a mixture of ABS plastic and carbon fiber in open space without the need for layered support.   

“We have an algorithm that can generate geometry and robotic code to create this matrix,” he explains. “That open matrix is very lightweight. We fit them together like big Lego blocks on-site, (and) then you apply construction materials on site to become a wall assembly in the field. If someone sends us a CAD file, then we can produce that wall (using this method).”  

To accomplish this, the company’s freeform 3D printer extruder head is attached to a 12.5 foot Kuka Robotics robotic arm that moves along a 33-foot track.  With these components, the maximum build volume for a 3D printed Branch Technology 3D matrix is an impressive 25-feet wide by 58-feet long.  Once printed, the support structures can be layered with traditional building materials including concrete, foam insulation and drywall depending on the intended design.

While the ability for a 3D printed matrix to support an exponential amount of weight is downright impressive, one of the more impressive features of the technology is its ability to dramatically reduce constructions costs by roughly half.  According to Boyd, starting a wall assembly using the company’s 3D printed matrix is capable of dropping construction costs to somewhere between $80 and $140 a square foot.  

“It’s thin-shell concrete construction when it’s all said and done,” he says. “On top of those materials you can add whatever interior or exterior finish you want. Outside could be stucco, or brick. It’s the real deal.”

So far, Boyd has managed to raise nearly $1M in seed funding and is currently looking for another $1.5M to help further support bringing the technology to market along with his three-man team.  

Currently, the company is sponsoring a $10,000 design competition to construct the first 3D printed house using the company’s cellular fabrication technology.  The contest, which begins in September, encourages applicants to submit plans to build a house that is between 1,200 and 1,400 square feet.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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