This Startup Is Building Houses With the World’s Biggest Freeform 3D Printer

branch technology

Platt Boyd was an Auburn-educated architect who had been working in the field for 15 years. Throughout his career, he was consistently frustrated by design constraints caused by the limitations of traditional building materials and techniques.

He was especially fascinated by the elements of design and engineering found in nature — and knew he could use new technologies like 3D printing and industrial robotics to recreate this in buildings and structures.

With all this in mind, in 2014 Boyd conceptualized the group that eventually became 3D printing startup Branch Technology.

Branch Technology is the creator of the world’s largest freeform 3D printer and a process for building structures as unique as its mission.

Platt moved himself and his family from Montgomery, Alabama, to Chattanooga in 2015 to participate in GIGTANK, one of the only accelerator programs at the time with a track dedicated to 3D printing and additive manufacturing. He decided to make the move permanent after finding a supportive ecosystem for tech entrepreneurs, and since then, has grown the company to nearly 40 employees.

Read on to learn how Branch Technology is currently designing and developing the world’s first freeform 3D-printed house in Chattanooga.

Tell us about Branch Technology.

Branch Technology is an architectural fabricator specializing in large-scale 3D-printing with a revolutionary technology that combines industrial robots, sophisticated algorithms, and a novel “Freeform” extrusion technology that allows material to solidify in free space. This technology, called Cellular Fabrication (C-FABTM), draws inspiration from the way that nature creates form and structure and stands to revolutionize the construction industry through unprecedented design freedom and resource stewardship.

What is the market impact?

The $1.2 trillion U.S. construction industry (and $10 trillion global industry) is one of the largest and most fragmented markets in the world. At the same time, the U.S. construction industry wastes over $36 Billion in non-demolition construction materials every year and has seen very little innovation since the Industrial Revolution. In addition, designed complexity becomes cost-prohibitive very quickly due to the inability of traditional materials to be worked into complex shapes.

Branch is democratizing design freedom and developing a new construction product than can be lighter, stronger, faster on-site, and with ten times greater design freedom through a process that is inherently waste-free (additive manufacturing vs. “subtractive” manufacturing, which is what nearly every construction method to date has been).  

Have you experienced a pivot during your company’s lifetime?

We did not expect the 3D-printed lattice [material] alone to sell. The composite has always been the main product that we are headed towards. However, we have been able to supplement funding with revenue-generating projects that are made entirely out of the 3D-printed matrix, including the world’s largest 3D-printed structure.

Who are your competitors and why are you different?

Our competitors perpetuate the status quo in construction – torturing traditional materials into complex designs at high cost and waste. Other 3D-printing companies are usually performing monolithic, on-site layered-concrete printing. Branch stands out because we have embraced the more efficient method of prefabrication and because of our patented “Freeform” printing capabilities.

What has been your biggest challenge thus far?

Our Curve Appeal project, which will be the world’s first freeform 3D-printed house and the debut of the composite product. It is currently in production and should be fully constructed sometime in the next 6-12 months.

Tim Moore is the Communications Manager at CO.LAB, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship in Chattanooga and the southeast Tennessee region. Originally from up the road in Cleveland, TN, Tim has spent the past several years telling stories of entrepreneurs and working to build a better startup ecosystem in his city. He lives with his partner, Jordan, and dog, George.