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How this construction startup is building homes with 3D printers

Mighty Buildings Co-Founder & Chief Sustainability Officer Sam Ruben joins Yahoo Finance’s On The Move panel to break down how the construction startup is using 3D printers to build homes.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: Our next guest's company sort of sits at the intersection of a lot of different timely topics that we are watching right now. We're watching the wildfires in California and thinking about construction and where we should be building at the same time that there is a housing boom in some-- a housing market boom in some areas of the United States.

Sam Ruben is the Co-Founder and Chief Sustainability Officer of Mighty Buildings, which is a startup that makes houses by 3D printing. Sam, thank you for joining us. How exactly does this work, right, because we've talked about 3D printing of a lot of different things in manufacturing, but buildings, I mean, that's on another scale, obviously?

SAM RUBEN: Yeah, very much so. So at Mighty Buildings, we've actually developed a unique material that's different than concrete which cures using light, which allows it to harden quickly enough that we can print not only the floors and walls, but also the roofs of structures.

ADAM SHAPIRO: I am curious, though, when I look at some of the website the-- what gets built, there is a housing shortage. We need housing. But it's very 1970s minimalist, almost Logan's Run, blech, No offense to the designs, but you do it quickly, but it's a box.

SAM RUBEN: Yeah, so with what we're doing, because of how quickly our material cures, we actually opened up whole new design possibilities. You'll see on our website at MightyBuildings.com that we have our modules which have a curved wall, which kind of opens-- hints at the design possibilities that we can do. But we also have the ability to do more traditional looks. And one of the unique aspects of what we're doing is really that design flexibility to do both existing aesthetics, introduce new aesthetics, and really create whatever is needed for a design longer term.

JARED BLIKRE: Jared Blikre here. I just want to ask you, what is-- how-- how scalable is this technology? Could you build entire cities with this? Or is this just one building here, one building there? How big is your market and production capabilities?

SAM RUBEN: Yeah. So one of the reasons that we've focused on doing 3D printing in the prefab space is that it really unlocks the opportunity to produce at a mass scale. And we've also been working here in California with the Factory-Built Housing Program to certify our units, so they can actually be placed in any backyard in California. And so far, we've delivered two units in San Ramon and San Diego, with another three units on our shop floor right now waiting for the site work to be completed, another 16 on contract.

And we've just launched a new partnership with a developer to do a couple hundred units over the next couple years. So we're really looking at expanding this at scale by establishing printing hubs in California, around the country, and around the world where there's demand to be able to serve those markets at the commercial scale.

DAN HOWLEY: Sam, when you look at these kinds of projects, you know, I guess, where do you think that they fit the best in terms of climate and location? You know, if I'm in the Northeast and there's a heavy snowfall, is it going to be able to hold up to the weight of that? I guess, where do you see these fitting with the designs that are currently being shown?

SAM RUBEN: Yeah, so our current designs were designed for the California market. But with the new fiber-reinforced version of our material, we're going to be able to operate anywhere in the world, really, because the structural strength is similar to steel, so it opens up the opportunities to address markets. And one of the cool things about California is that we actually have snow load. We have cold weather. We have hot weather. We have all those extremes.

And we also have one of the most stringent building codes in the world, which is why we started here versus, say, somewhere like Texas, where you can really kind of do everything, because we wanted to make it really easy to be able to translate the building-- to the building code of other states. And we've also really been focusing on the regulatory side, because this is housing. This isn't software that you can throw out in the wild and debug on the fly.

We really have to make sure that we're doing it safely. And so we've been working closely with UL and are the first company certified under their 3401 standard for 3D printing construction, which has actually been added as an adoptable appendix to the 2021 International Residential Code to provide guidance to municipalities that want to use 3D printed houses.

JULIE HYMAN: Sam, I have a little bit more question about the use case here, right, because one of the other attractive qualities of this is it's very low cost compared with traditional construction. So who are the customers right now? And who do you think the customers will be? Is this a public housing use case, for example? Or do you think that private homeowners are going to be more interested in this?

SAM RUBEN: Yeah, so initially, we have started with the accessory dwelling unit market in California, given the changes in state law to really streamline the permitting of that. And so for our initial units, we've actually been selling directly to homeowners. And we've-- as I mentioned, we've also signed a agreement recently with a developer to do ADUs on some of their multifamily developments, which are currently market rate.

But long term, we really see what we're doing as completely market agnostic, and as well as being design agnostic, and truly a tool for industry to allow the existing labor force to build more in order to really get all the housing out there in order to close the affordability gap. So whether that's low-income housing, eventually, or where we are right now with more market rate, we don't really see that being a limitation.

JULIE HYMAN: Sam Ruben is Co-Founder and Chief Sustainability Officer of Mighty Buildings. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.