MELBOURNE, Fla. – Walk into Apis Cor’s new showroom, and you’ll be greeted by “Frank,” an outsized 3D-printing robot that builds concrete walls — and may someday revolutionize the Space Coast’s homebuilding industry, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.
“Frank is an autonomous printer that basically will help you print homes here in the future,” said Edgar Muñoz, Apis Cor business development lead, leaning against the machine’s metal arm.
“This is a boom system that can extend out to 16 feet. And he actually can go up to 10 and a half feet of height. So this is him — short and skinny — to (fit) here in our showroom,” he said.
Muñoz bent over to touch Franks’ extruder, or the rectangular “nose” at the end of his boom arm.
“This is where all the magic happens. That’s where all the material goes,” he said.
Apis Cor opened what it bills as the world’s first showroom for 3D-printed homes in late December at The Avenue Viera. Officials hope to schedule a ribbon-cutting ceremony later this month.
The home-construction startup entered the Guinness Book of Records in October 2019 by building the world’s largest 3D-printed structure (in terms of volume) in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
That two-story building was comprised of 11.07 cubic meters of 3D-printed material, the Guinness Book of Records notes. The structure was created by one of Frank’s predecessor robots — he is a fourth-generation model.
Now, Apis Cor is accepting reservations for 3D-printed residential homes, with construction projected to start in the first quarter of 2023. The company is also conducting introductory workshops for homebuilders and construction companies, with hopes of leasing Frank to contractors by the third or fourth quarter of this year.
“We print the exterior and interior walls, which typically are the most time-consuming and financially consuming parts of the projects. That way, we save a lot of time and money,” said Jennifer McKinney, business operations manager.
“We are about 30% cheaper than a standard home. And 33% stronger — and nine times quicker to build,” McKinney said. The company’s concrete is a proprietary mix.
What’s more, McKinney said Frank can build a home’s exterior and interior walls using only two human workers. She said an average 2,000-square-foot home’s walls can be printed in 40 to 60 hours.
Nationwide, an array of 3D-printing companies are racing to enter the homebuilding industry, which has been socked by labor-shortage delays and escalating material prices amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Apis Cor moved its operations from Boston to Melbourne about three years ago. The startup’s virtual design of its showcase 3D-printed house, the Impreza, won a Diamond Award in October during the Space Coast Home Builders & Contractors Association’s Parade of Homes.
“We were really excited. That was kind of our splash to see how we would be received by the public, how we would be received by homebuilders,” McKinney said.
Impreza’s design features curved exterior walls and a rooftop observation deck. The company is accepting reservations for the 2,800-square-foot home with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Cost: $750,000.
“3D printing is an amazing technology whose future is bright as the demand for affordable housing continues to increase,” John Thomas, CEO of the Space Coast HBCA, said in an email.
“3D-printed homes have the potential to help make the dream of home ownership more accessible to all,” Thomas said.
Apis Cor officials hope their technology expands affordable-housing options. On Dec. 21, a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Williamsburg, Virginia, introduced Habitat for Humanity’s first 3D-printed, owner-occupied house in the nation.
Alquist, a 3D-printing construction company, printed the 1,200-square-foot three-bedroom, two-bath home in 28 hours — slashing the standard construction schedule by at least four weeks, a Habitat for Humanity blog post said.
In the future, Apis Cor officials say their technology could be used by astronauts to construct shelters while colonizing Mars.
In 2019, Apis Cor and Team SEArch+ were finalists in NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, an engineering contest that focused on manufacturing housing from local indigenous materials like dirt, clay and sand on the moon, Mars and other planets.
Apis Cor is a member of Groundswell Startups, the high-tech business incubator on U.S. 1 in Melbourne. In November, Groundswell hosted a “Beer, Empanadas & 3D Printing” meeting and social hour with Anna Cheniuntai, Apis Cor’s founder and CEO.
Cheniuntai told the audience that apis is Latin for “bee,” and bees and wasps use a natural extrusion process to build their honeycombed homes.
Amplify South Melbourne, a Groundswell-based private foundation, is exploring a partnership with the company to build affordable housing in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“I think it’s very exciting that they’re here in Brevard County. I do think additive manufacturing is the future. It’s why we’re leaning heavily into it here at Groundswell,” said Jarin Eisenberg, Groundswell’s chief operations officer.
“The more we can make housing affordable for people, I think that is such a huge, huge need,” Eisenberg said.
5 things to know about Frank
1. Frank is a 2,900-pound autonomous 3D-printing robot on display inside Apis Cor’s showroom at The Avenue Viera.
2. His predecessor built the world’s largest 3D-printed structure in October 2019 in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
3. Frank can print buildings up to two stories tall with unlimited square footage.
4. He uses tank treads to roll across construction sites, and he can be transported in a pickup truck.
5. Frank is accompanied at worksites by “Gary,” a portable concrete mixing-pumping unit