A Columbus Startup is Rethinking Homebuilding with 3D Printers

How Vitruvian wants to solve a labor shortage, supply chain slowdowns, and the housing crisis

Concrete 3D printed home

For decades, homebuilding has been a largely consistent process. Workers pour a foundation, build frames, and complete the home using materials we all recognize. But a Columbus startup is seeking to change how we think about that process entirely. Vitruvian is setting out to revolutionize homebuilding through a 3D printed process that it believes will solve problems, expand access to housing, and even be friendlier to the environment.

“We’re an autonomous construction platform based on additive manufacturing — 3D printing,” Co-founder Chris Sentz said. “We’re setting out to automate as much construction as possible without a manufacturer, and we’re specifically focused on the home industry because of the significant demand for homes and the very insufficient supply. Initially, we’re building the frame of the home — the interior and exterior walls — but then we can start to add trusses and roofing and foundation. As the technology matures, we’ll be able to do more and more over time.”

Still in the development phases, Vitruvian plans to use large 3D printers on-site to create homes out of aggregate materials that are similar to concrete, but more environmentally friendly. And for Sentz and his team, one of the biggest motivators and selling points is the lack of workers that their projects will require. That’s not because they want to remove people from the homebuilding process, it’s because those people simply aren’t available.

“In the construction industry, the major issue is a labor shortage,” Sentz said. “The labor pool in construction is too small today, and a third of that labor pool is within ten years of retirement. The backfill is almost non-existent. So every five people who leave the industry, one or two replace them. So that labor piece of the equation is huge. One thing that we’re sure about is that there aren’t going to be enough construction workers in the future and there already aren’t today.”

Another major selling point for Vitruvian is the company’s plan for using materials different from the concrete and lumber we typically expect homes to be built from. Their “totally game-changing” composite materials will reduce waste by more than 90 percent, will be easier to obtain, and will put less of a strain on the environment. Someday, Sentz even expects to be able to use a material similar to concrete that can absorb and store energy for things like solar panels.

“COVID really hurt the supply chain, and the next big hit to the supply chain is already here,” he said. “If you’ve looked out your window this summer, you’ve seen that it’s all foggy because of the Canadian wildfires. Those forests are where we get our lumber, so we’ve burned down a huge part of our supply. And we’re going to continue to see those issues.”

Initially, Vitruvian will be using retrofitted 3D printers to fit their needs. Later, it plans to build those printers and sell them to homebuilders. Currently, it’s working on raising funds, expanding its team, and establishing partnerships with manufacturers. Sentz said the idea is to eventually have a printer that can fit onto a trailer and “walk” itself into position. The goal is to provide “the simplest-to-use machine on the market” that is connected to a platform that provides designs, inspections, machine learning, and more. And as it continues to grow, Sentz said Vitruvian is in a perfect location to harness Ohio’s startup momentum.

“Folks are so accessible in Columbus, and that’s always been nice,” he said. “I’ve rarely found someone who wasn’t willing to have coffee or a conversation and give candid feedback. People aren’t super guarded, and they realize we’re dreaming big and it doesn’t mean the construction companies are losing out. There’s no one thing that solves the housing crisis. And as we continue to grow, there’s always opportunity here. Columbus has been on such an upswing.”

If Vitruvian can reach their lofty goals, their impact on the country — and even beyond — could be massive. And for Sentz and his team, that’s what makes their project so exciting.

“Our goal is to bring the world housing,” he said. “Housing has such a fundamental impact on people’s lives, and we have such a need for housing in the United States — and that’s just a small piece of the worldwide housing need. We have an aging housing stock and a population that’s grown to a point where owning a home isn’t attainable to a lot of the population anymore. We want to flip that. We want to help folks own homes and make it so that the home you live in isn’t a burden, is efficient, and that people can be proud of.”

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