ICON raises $207M to bring construction “into the modern world”

The nominations for the 2021 3D Printing Industry Awards are now open. Who do you think should make the shortlists for this year’s show? Have your say now. 

Texan 3D printing firm ICON has raised $207 million, which it says will help “bring housing and construction into the modern world.” 

Led by Norwest Venture Partners, ICON’s Series B funding round takes its total investment raised up to $266 million. The move sees Norwest Venture Partners’ Jeff Crowe join ICON’s board, in return for providing it with the backing needed to accelerate the R&D of its technologies, scale its production capacity and expand its team of engineers, architects and operational leaders.

“Since our unveiling in 2018, ICON’s primary work has been maturing its technology from prototype to reliable, ready-for-the-world products and services,” said Jason Ballard, CEO of ICON. “This has required dozens of fundamental engineering, scientific and architectural breakthroughs, and we’re very proud of where we are today. We want to turn up the velocity in a major way and are ready to scale.”

A row of ICON 3D printed homes in Austin, Texas.
ICON has now raised $266 million since its launch in 2018. Photo via ICON.

ICON’s architectural backers 

Norwest Venture Partners’ backing sees it join ICON’s army of architecture and home building investors, which have clubbed together to fund its expansion over the last three years. In October 2018, Oakhouse Partners led the firm’s first $9 million funding round, which closely followed its erection of Texas’ first authorized 3D printed home. 

Since then, ICON has scaled the application of its technology, working with non-profit New Story to build a Latin American community of 3D printed houses in March 2019, before gaining another $35 million via a funding round led by Moderne Ventures, which it used to advance its housebuilding capabilities, and develop new home types and designs. 

Over the last year, the company’s rapid progress has also seen its technology adopted by U.S. military and aerospace clientele like NASA, which recently commissioned it to develop an off-world construction system. According to Ballard, ICON is now taking a suitably NASA-inspired approach to its R&D, by using its latest round of backing to quickly scale, and aim for the stars with future developments. 

“We’re treating this like the Apollo program for the future of the way we build and the future of the way we meet one of our most basic needs,” said Ballard. “We anticipate more rapid progress in the years ahead to help bring housing and construction into the modern world and in-line with humanity’s highest hopes and values.” 

“We’re going to accelerate the growth of an elite and diverse team of scientists, engineers, architects, operators and leaders, that is now over 100 and growing.”

ICON's Mars Dune Alpha under construction at the NASA Johnson Space Center.
ICON’s Mars Dune Alpha martian simulation under construction at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Photo via ICON.

Scaling Vulcan 3D printing

So far, ICON has been able to build more than two dozen homes in the U.S. and plenty more abroad, thanks to its proprietary Vulcan 3D printer. The machine effectively enables the faster and more flexible construction of homes than conventional building methods allow, and the company unveiled an upgraded “next-generation system” earlier this year. 

With a larger build volume and print speed of 5-10″ per second, ICON’s new machine is twice as fast and capable of printing structures up to 3,000 sq. ft in size. As a result, the company has been able to address increasingly ambitious applications over the last six months, including the construction of four multi-storey buildings in East Austin, which it has since listed on the U.S. housing market. 

In aerospace, ICON has also made advances, leveraging its technology to produce the “world’s first” 3D printed lunar launch pad in March 2021, before working with NASA to create a simulated martian environment. The latter is set to host astronauts on a three year field test, in which the efficacy of NASA’s nutrition system will be assessed, as well as the long-term impact of living on the red planet. 

Most recently, the company has expanded into new military areas as well, agreeing to 3D print training barracks which will house up to 72 U.S. troops, and ahead of his admission to ICON’s board, Crowe has hailed Vulcan’s “groundbreaking” capabilities, particularly in creating low-cost homes to address what he sees as a growing U.S. housing crisis. 

“ICON is already building everything from single family homes for the homeless all the way to structures for habitation on the Moon and Mars,” added Crowe. “But we are particularly excited about the opportunity for ICON to collaborate with home builders, and massively impact the housing shortage currently plaguing the U.S.”

“We’re thrilled to add ICON to our portfolio of innovative prop tech leaders, and look forward to partnering with the team in the years ahead.”

ICON's "next-generation" Vulcan 3D printer.
ICON’s “next-generation” Vulcan 3D printer. Image via ICON.

ICON’s housebuilding competitors

While ICON has established itself as a leader in the emerging construction 3D printing space, its house building technology is now beginning to face increased competition. Over in California, for instance, Mighty Buildings has developed a novel construction approach of its own, which it now plans to use to 3D print fifteen homes in Coachella Valley. 

In Germany, meanwhile, the PERI Group has leveraged one of COBOD’s established BOD2 systems to erect a three-floor 3D printed commercial apartment building. Unlike the homes being built by Mighty Buildings and ICON, the PERI Group’s has been constructed for the rental market, and is reportedly set to be split into five separate apartments. 

Just two months ago, the U.S. non-profit Habitat for Humanity also deployed COBOD’s BOD2 machine to 3D print an affordable family home. Located in Tempe, Arizona, the house includes three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and is set to be lived in by an underprivileged family of the charity’s choosing. 

The nominations for the 2021 3D Printing Industry Awards are now open. Who do you think should make the shortlists for this year’s show? Have your say now. 

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Featured image shows a row of ICON 3D printed homes in Austin, Texas. Photo via ICON.