In 2020, Zack Mannheimer founded a pair of new companies to tackle problems crippling communities across the nation. First, he founded Atlas Community Studios to help revitalize small communities. He's worked with small towns that average about 3,000 people across 27 different states, building new streets, creating new businesses and helping current businesses in the region expand. The top three complaints that he hears in nearly every community revolve around a lack of childcare, poor access to broadband and limited (or no) housing options. We often talk about labor shortages in the manufacturing industry, and one reason staffing remains an issue is because of a dearth of homes.
So, the same year, Zack also founded Alquist 3D to solve the rural housing crisis with new 3D printing technology. Alquist got its start with a grant from Virginia to 3D print the first home in the state. It was a dramatic learning curve.
First of all, the printer arrived three months late due to issues with COVID-19 and problems stemming from the skyscraper-sized container ship blocking the Suez Canal for the better part of a week. The company had no time to prototype, but they went from pulling the COBOD 3D printer out of the box to their first home in five weeks. The process wasn't nearly as efficient as it could have been, but over the course of three weeks and some 28 hours of print time, they had a home. Alquist also faced challenges from the weather and getting materials to adapt to the climate.
They took their lumps and built the company's second home in 22 hours over 1.5 weeks. Soon, Mannheimer says they'll be 3D-printing homes in a matter of days.
The company is currently printing concrete, though that's not the long-term plan because it's not environmentally sustainable. While the concrete homes will use about 50% of the energy of a traditional stick building and create much less waste on the job site, Mannheimer says concrete production creates too many CO2 emissions. So, Mannheimer has partnered with multiple universities and a couple of companies to try and make hempcrete a reality. Hempcrete is a biocomposite material that could prove a suitable replacement for concrete.
In November, Alquist partnered with Revive Hemp Industries and Black Buffalo 3D to create a hemp-based 3D construction ink. Revive will supply the materials/ink, Black Buffalo will provide the 3D construction printers, and Alquist will print the homes. But for now, concrete remains the medium.
On December 21st, Alquist 3D, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, unveiled the first 3D-printed owner-occupied home in the nation. The team handed April Stringfield the keys to 129 Forest Heights Road in Williamsburg, VA. The first 1,300 square-foot home has three bedrooms and two bathrooms in a bungalow style. Alquist intentionally designed the home to blend in with the neighborhood because some people remain unsettled by the new method. 3D printing homes is still a bleeding-edge technology that needs to be commercialized. It's a robot building a home, and Mannheimer says it's difficult for some people to wrap their heads around it.
The 3D-printed homes can range from $220,000 to $270,000. Right now, the cost savings is negligible until the business scales. Still, a groundswell is forming around 3D printed homes, and Mannheimer has already turned down thousands of requests to 3D print new homes. The 3D printed home industry only has about ten companies, and Mannheimer stresses a need for more companies to enter the market.
Next year, Alquist plans to expand and print new homes in Virginia, Iowa, Oregon and Pennsylvania. And while the skills and labor shortage remains a big problem, he also plans to debut a new workforce development program next year in partnership with community colleges across the U.S.