As communities across the United States face similar housing shortages, two local institutions are working together to research and test a possible solution.
Iowa Central Community College and Iowa State University announced late last year the creation of their partnership to purchase a colossal industrial 3D printer to be used in home construction. The Iowa Economic Development Authority awarded a $1.4 million grant to the Iowa State College of Design for the 3D Affordable Innovation Technologies Housing Project.
As Iowa Central students are trained to use the technology, Iowa State students will test, research and analyze the technology, according to Pete Evans, an assistant professor in the Iowa State Department of Industrial Design. Evans is the project leader for the 3D printer.
Components for the 40-foot-wide printer have begun arriving at the Central Iowa East Campus, 2031 Quail Ave., and will be assembled in the next two weeks, with the printer expected to be operational next month, Evans said. First, they will focus on getting the printer to work and understanding how it works during the fall and winter.
“We will do small tests, small micro-houses, different tests that we can do inside”, Evans said. “So this is a 12-month-a-year type of operation.”
Once spring rolls around, they’ll get the printer out and try to do some outdoor testing.
“Something on a small scale, where we can test different components with the concrete walls and start putting together types of habitable shelters.” Evans said.
Next spring and summer, the schools will send teams to Hamburg, Fremont County, to test the printer and build a house on the site.
This partnership and the project are a multifaceted ecosystem, Evans said. The project and the research that comes through it will include everything from technical education for the workforce, to materials science, economics, and other things that can be harnessed to create decent housing at a rapid pace.
The 3D printing project could also have some long-term impacts in Central Iowa.
“We will incorporate our current woodworking program into using the printer, exposing them to the new technology that is available to us through this partnership.” said Neale Adams, associate vice president for instruction at Central Iowa.
Adams said there’s a chance the university could design an associate’s degree around advanced construction as a result of this team.
“We’re going to figure out what we need to do to design a team-based curriculum, because this is completely new to us.” he said.
3D printing is a new and evolving construction technology. The printer purchased by Iowa Central and Iowa State has a base cost of about $400,000. They will also add the material delivery system and other components to the machine. The printer will eventually be able to make building materials using concrete, foam insulation, plastic compounds and other composite materials, Evans said. They are also looking at different capacities of materials that are more environmentally friendly than concrete, including corn stover, recycled glass, and even potentially recycled fiberglass from retired wind turbines.
“I think a big part of this that’s interesting is that there isn’t a lot of research or information on this technology.” Adams said.
This is one of the first programs in the country focused on using and testing 3D printing for home construction, Evans added.
Yavapai College in Arizona has a similar concrete 3D printing program.
“Along with that is training a workforce for it,” said Dan Oswald, a woodworking instructor from Central Iowa who will work with the 3D printer. So if it’s possible [as a construction tool]there will be people in the industry with the ability to do it when it gets to the forefront.”
This partnership and the industrial 3D printing technology it brings can set Iowa Central apart from other schools, said Stacy Mentzer, Iowa Central’s vice president of instruction.
“I think it means big things and it will be something that we can offer students that other community colleges in the state can’t offer.” she said. “I think that increased opportunities are always good for the university.”