Q+A: CEO talks about 3D printing buildings, affordable housing
Discussions about housing affordability tend to focus on two components: cost and availability.
Apis Cor, a startup focused on 3D printing buildings, aims to work on both fronts, CEO Anna Cheniuntai said during a live interview with Matter.
By using 3D printing, according to Cheniuntai, buildings can be created faster, reducing the cost per unit and allowing more units to be built more quickly.
It may be too soon to know how those claims shake out, but Cheniuntai said Apis Cor is doing some interesting work on building home in several major U.S. cities at affordable price points.
Read on to find out more about how a building is 3D printed, how that might ease the housing affordability crisis and what work is already being done.
Tell us a little bit about Apis Cor and what you all plan to do.
[Apis Cor 3D prints buildings and], now we've frankly busy with the scale and the technology to bring it to the actual application and how we can expedite the transition from the, you know, manual construction, which relies on skilled labor. So how we can transition to the faster and cheaper way of construction.
Fascinating. Wow. That's a really helpful overview … so you said that the materials that you're using are a type of concrete. Is that right?
Okay. And you mentioned that it's a little bit bigger than your desktop printer, right? I would assume that would probably have to be.
Yeah. So the machine that we use, it's slightly bigger, right? Because we need to do a different bit bigger on just like the actual houses. Actually there are a lot of other equipment in the market [that also print houses]. We're not the only company doing this.
So some of the features that's really kind of the main difference is the compact dimensions of the machine on the printer that we use. So you don't need to have a ton of people just to deploy or transport the large machine.
You just need to have a pickup truck and flip between there, and you use the joystick to bring the printer to the flatbed or to the banquet slab. So for example, just me alone, I can simply bring the printer to any construction site when I want to build a house.
For women like me, now we can have access to the construction industry and start in the home building and just home build the building business. Because now, with this technology, we don't need to hire all of the, you know, skilled labor, which is, again, pretty limited today.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's a great point about the fact that that could help disrupt the industry a bit and have it be a little less male dominated because of the ease of access.
So you mentioned that it was concrete primarily used in the materials. Is that what most of the materials are? Because I looked on the website and most of the houses look like the same types of houses that you would normally expect, like the same type of style and structure that you would expect for a more traditional building. Are all of the materials 3D printed? If so, how does that work with cabinets and paneling, things like that?
Oh yeah. So basically, 3D printed houses, they really look the same as a traditional build house. But the technology also provides the opportunity to 3D print curved walls. That would be for the traditional construction methods, what's very expensive or even not possible at all to do so.
So you can see houses that will feature the unique design, I would say. But the material that we use, it's pretty concrete-like material…
All of the remaining part of the house, like a concrete slab roof or a windows installation and like the finishes, mechanical stuff, it's still done traditionally. So basically once the 3D printed walls are printed, then the subcontractor for the electrical and plumbing, for example, come in and install all of the fixtures and all of the system.
For the subcontractors, if you don't tell them that this house is 3D printed, then they will not see the difference and then go, “Okay, I will go and do my work,” just like they would have before. .
Nevertheless, we see that the next step of the technology is how to expedite all of the remaining construction processes and elements.
So our goal is to really look at how to speed up the construction process from 8 to 12 months. — that actually you don't even have today with traditional construction — how to expedite the tool over two or three months to receive the finished house.
Okay. Wow. Is that about how long it's taken for the houses that you've already 3D printed? Because I know there's at least a few that you've already printed. So if you could tell us a little bit about those houses and the success with them and also how long did they take to print? How well did some of these things that you're talking about pan out with those examples?
So the building in Dubai, it was a one of a kind project. Not just for us, for the entire industry. It is a very huge building. So tons of materials extruded there. It took three months of machine time to 3D print the wall structures of that building.
But that time was kind of stretched within one and a half years because it's like a pretty extensive construction project. And they also did a lot of research and development for a lot of the things. So it was a huge learning curve for us.
And then it was further like that in the beginning. So the buildings that we 3D printed in the United States last year. So the house in Missouri, it took 63 hours to 3D print the building walls.
It would be a stretch to build like that, I would say in ten days, because, like, you can’t work, like 24 hours per day, right. And sometimes the weather is something like this. But like, you really can expedite the time to the 3D print the shell of the house.
Then, it really depends on depends on the subcontractors who will come and install their operating something like this. So it was also an exploring process for us too.
Our building in Boca Chica, Texas, which we actually built this completely pretty fast, like within two weeks. So yeah, you know we are evolving, and we know what needs to be the better approach so that next year we can really get to the point when we can build or create better houses much faster than the traditional construction.
Well, that's fascinating. And I really appreciate you giving us more insight into those examples of what you've already done. I know that part of the hope with this, at least in the way that we've kind of talked about it prior to this interview, is that, with this new building technology, you’ll be able to produce a lot more houses a lot more quickly. You've mentioned that could help with some of the affordability issues that we've been having in lots of different housing markets, and Columbus is no exception to that.
Tell us a little bit about how you think that this technology of 3D printing homes could help with housing affordability and kind of a bigger picture?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. So again, like any automation and robotics solution, it really helps to expedite the construction time and increase productivity. So this is one of the really important keys to how to start providing affordable and available housing as well.
Because today in the United States, for example, it's a huge problem with the inventory on the market. So even if you have money and you're going to be able to buy the house right away or sometimes your house isn’t yet available on the market, it can be on the market in two days and people come with the cash for whatever they can do just to get the house. So I would say that it’s the affordability and availability of the houses. It's kind of like two different markets.
For affordable housing, we really need to figure out how to bring the cost down and how to build very affordably. And technology is the very strong response to that… So in the beginning, every technology is pretty expensive. So we, right now, at the moment when we grow in scale is how we can really get the technology really affordable for the affordable housing. Technology allows two or three different, really unique, I would say, wall structures. So you can reduce the cost of the finishing or the installation because you can install the insulation materials inside the walls. This is how you also reduce the cost from the labor or, for example, other materials.
So it's not just the walls, it's also all of the other links, processes and technologies that also get affected in a positive way by the technology. And so we're working right now with the affordable housing groups in Miami-Dade and in South Carolina and in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Our goal for the next year is to deliver on the project that the building will cost $88,000. Pretty small, but it's low-cse housing or a house that will be $100,000. So it's really different budget and requirements.
But we are right now building the strategy of how we can tune and tailor the technology and all of the positive things that technology also brings and here’s how we can achieve that. So we're actively working on it right now for the next year to bring that [affordable housing].
Yeah, absolutely. That's really interesting. The programs that you're talking about in Miami, New Orleans, and South Carolina. It's really interesting that you mentioned those projects, and you mentioned that the goal is to have houses that would be available at $80,000 and $100,000. Is that what you're saying?
Yes, we're working on how we actually can really tune and tailor the technology to meet that specific goal. We're looking at technical requirements. So in Miami-Dade, for example, they know that we want to provide this housing for this specific families.
We know that they make this amount of money per year. Right. So they can afford only this amount in rent per month. So this is why we need these houses for this price. Of course, it’s like it, how we can do this, how we can make this happen, how technology can help us to make it happen.
And of course, it's like in the entire project. It's not just the 3D printed walls, but also I would say design and develop the overall project. Like what else we can incorporate to really meet that goal of the prize
Yeah, absolutely. I'm really glad that you brought that up, because part of my question as well is that and I think and correct me if I'm wrong on this, but it sounds like the way that you're understanding the affordability is through kind of the availability that you're talking about.
This has been something that our audiences would be very familiar with because there's been lots of talk about how we have just not been building enough. For example, there was a study a few years ago, I think it was 2018 from the Building Industry Association here locally that said that we are short like 6,000 units or so per year. And I don't know if those numbers are still accurate, but that's kind of where we were in that and I would guess it's probably only increased since then. So I think the availability aspect that you're talking about absolutely is true.
It limits some of those cash offers that you're talking about and helps to limit folks being priced out. I know personally some folks that are lower income and were looking for houses. And they were just getting bought up by investors left and right because the housing market was so high and demand that those folks who were looking for a home rather than an investment were having a hard time with it.
So I think the availability part is a key part of what you mentioned. But I also notice for the houses that you at least are advertising on the website right now, those houses tend to range and I think they're several bedrooms, if I remember, they're like 2 to 3 bedrooms, and they tend to range from like $330,000 to $470,000, I think was the higher end of it, which isn't like outrageous by any means. But for example, the median home price in Columbus I think is around like $250,000.
And so part of my question with the affordability was what the plan is within that realm, because those houses are a bit more expensive than we would expect for traditionally built houses across the board. Do you anticipate that that'll be something that you guys will continue to pursue in that realm to like reduce the cost of individual houses? Or is your focus more on creating more availability overall?
I would say really one thing that all of the directions as a startup and as like an industry pioneer, right, you really need to take out all of the niches available within the market. So we work on the affordable housing program because we know how to apply the technology to build affordable housing at a very low cost, for example. But we also see that there is other parts of the market, people who just want to have a 3D printed house with the all of the new designs. And this is more like, I would say, the luxury market.
Because the price of the house, it's not just, you know, just the walls are up, for example. It's also all of the deck chairs finishes and, you know, the same house, the same floor plan, and you can build it for like $200,000. You can build the same house for like $800,000 just because you have, you know, all of the very expensive cabinets, for example, of finishes of the walls, all of the systems. The houses that we also presented on the website, it's like how we can tackle this part of the market.
And so for the affordable housing, it's really like we created the, I would say, the first industry affordable housing calculator program. When we come to the affordable housing groups and ask, what do you need? What's your requirements? And let's just find a way how we can apply the technology to this.
And it's tough to do something like that overnight, but that really needs to happen overnight. It's really the one year when you really develop, you know, the project, [that’s when] we learn all of the needs of like how the house should look like, what the system should be in this house, how the finish should look like, and how we also can achieve all of this within this target price range. And our goal is to look at how we can then scale this affordable housing program throughout the entire country. So we just started, you know, with the affordable housing program.
But I would say that the 3D printing technology for construction is still a fast growing market right now. And there’s a lot of opportunities and demand for this technology for affordable housing, available housing, and luxury markets. So we just try to, you know, have experience in all of them.
And because our goal as a company all the time is how to conduct business successfully, and how to scale the technology and get the technology in the hands of all of the construction companies. And then they can decide what they do.
Maybe the companies that's going to use our technology and equipment. They will focus only on the luxury market or other companies. They will use this tool like a robotics tool for their needs, for example, affordable housing construction. So this is like a kind of we are doing right now as the industry pioneer.
Absolutely. And that makes a lot of sense. And like you mentioned, I think that it is important to make sure that we have housing for all levels of the market, because otherwise it will affect anyone at any level.
Right. Wonderful. I think that's about all the questions that I have for you. Before we wrap up here. Is there anything else that you want to add or anywhere that you want folks to check out your work? Go ahead and let us know.
So, first of all, thank you very much. That's a great opportunity to talk. And I really like the point that you brought about the availability. You described it in such a great way. I think that I really going to borrow it in my next interviews because the availability of that's the problem.
And in Florida, for example, yeah, this is something that we believe the price of the houses are high because people want it. So the demand is much higher than the industry can supply. So yeah, I really, I really appreciate that.
So thank you. That's a great experience, and I think I hope that it was helpful for your audience.