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This image shows what the industrial 3D printer will look like once it is placed in one of the buildings on Iowa Central’s East Campus.

As communities across America face similar housing shortages, two local institutions are working together to research and test a potential solution.

Central Iowa Community College and Iowa State University announced late last year the creation of a partnership to purchase a colossal industrial 3D printer to be used in the construction of homes. The Iowa Economic Development Authority has awarded a $1.4 million grant to the Iowa State College of Design for the 3D Affordable Innovation Technology Housing Project.

While Iowa Central students are trained to use the technology, Iowa State students will test, research and analyze the technology, according to Pete Evans, an assistant professor in Iowa State’s industrial design department. Evans is the lead on the 3D printer project.

Components for the 40-foot-wide printer have begun arriving at Iowa Central’s east campus, 2031 Quail Ave., and will be assembled over the next few weeks, with the printer expected to be operational next month, Evans said. They will first focus on getting the printer up and running and understanding how it works through the fall and winter.

“We’re going to do little tests, little microhouses, different tests that we can do inside,” Evans said. “So it’s a 12-month-a-year operation.”

Once spring arrives, they will take the printer outside and try to do some outdoor testing.

“Something on a small scale where we can test different components with the concrete walls and start assembling habitable types of shelter.” Evans said.

Next spring and summer, the schools will send teams to Hamburg in Fremont County to test the printer and actually build a house on site.

This partnership and the project is a multifaceted ecosystem, Evans said. The project and the research being done through it will include everything from technical education for the workforce, to materials science, to economics and more, which can be used to create adequate housing at a rapid pace.

The 3D printing project could also have some long-term impacts on Iowa Central.

“We will incorporate our current carpentry program into the use of the printer, exposing them to the new technology that is available to us through this partnership.” said Neale Adams, associate vice president of instruction at Iowa Central.

Adams said there is an opportunity for the college to design an associate degree around advanced construction as a result of this equipment.

“We’re going to figure out what we need to do to create an equipment-based curriculum because this is brand new for us.” he said.

3D printing is a new and developing construction technology. The printer, purchased by Iowa headquarters and Iowa State, has a base price of about $400,000. They will also add the material delivery system and other components to the machine. The printer will eventually be able to produce building materials using concrete, insulating foam, plastic composites and other composite materials, Evans said. They are also looking at different material capacities that are more environmentally friendly than concrete, including corn stover, recycled glass and even potentially recycled fiberglass from retired wind turbines.

“I think a lot of what’s interesting is that there’s not a lot of research or information about this technology,” Adams said.

It is one of the first programs in the country focused on using and testing 3D printing for residential construction, Evans added.

Yavapai College in Arizona has a similar 3D concrete printing program.

“Along with that is to train a workforce for it,” said Dan Oswald, a carpentry instructor at Central Iowa who will be working with the 3D printer. “So if feasible [as a construction tool]there will be people in the industry with the ability to do it when it comes to the fore.”

That partnership, and the industrial 3D printing technology it brings with it, could set Iowa Central apart from other schools, said Stacy Menzer, vice president of learning at Iowa Central.

“I think it means great things and it’s going to be something that we can offer students that other community colleges in the state can’t offer,” she said. “I think increased opportunities are always good for a college.”

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