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Michael Woods, CEO and COO of Black Buffalo, is committed to making the building process more efficient with their 3D printing technology by helping to revolutionize the process of construction. Michael shares with Zach how they are introducing builders to the idea of 3D-printed homes and converting them to use their technology.
Solutions for Speed in Construction
The first 3D-printed home was unveiled four years ago at SXSW. People have been living in these homes, even documenting their lives in 3D-printed homes on Tik-Tok for a couple of years now.
But what Black Buffalo is doing has changed — and improved — the entire process of building for their customers. “We're not the builder,” explains Michael Woods, CEO and COO of Black Buffalo. “We don't compete with our clients who buy our machines and our material to do their jobs, to build their homes, to build their factories, their tunnels, their bridges — whatever it may be that they're using the 3D tech to do.”
Black Buffalo gives its customers the tools and technology to build on their own. “We create the robot. We create the gantry platform or the robot arm,” says Michael. “We create that to make it simpler, faster, more user-friendly for someone to be able to use this in the field.”
Black Buffalo also helps to guarantee a more efficient process by partnering with local concrete companies to provide the building material. “We license our IP, our ingredients, our recipe for that dry mix that gets delivered to them on-site,” he explains. “You can't ship it a long way. Otherwise, you're going to lose the cost-effectiveness. So, you work with local providers to do that locally.” The materials are also tested against global standards to meet local building codes.
“We wanted to do something that was globally accessible for all builders — to be able to use the same material,” Michael explains. And the material is highly durable.
“We're three times the strength of a CMU block wall. When you're 3D printing, not only do you have more creativity, do you have the ability to go faster [and] less expensively, you're also most importantly creating a better product, a safer wall, a safer structure for people to work and live in,” says Michael.
There are a few other ways Black Buffalo has innovated the entire construction process, and it’s providing some real solutions for builders and developers who need to keep up with demand.
On the Front Lines of the Future
The vantage point Michael and his team have is helpful when it comes to the future of building materials and 3D printing technology. “3D is not the answer to everything,” he explains.
Large custom homes would require larger printers, for example. But for builders putting up developments of dozens of homes, the speed of a 3D printer can be a viable solution.
“We print at roughly 250 millimeters per second, which is roughly 10 inches per second. That equates to printing a 1,000 square foot floor space home with 10 foot high walls, the whole frame of the house, windows, doors, all openings, etc — all completed in 22 hours on average,” explains Michael.
There are challenges and learning curves with all new technology, so Black Buffalo works closely with their customers to train and guide them through a project.
“We usually give two weeks of training. Then, of course, we service, we maintain, we do parts, etc.,” says Michael. “They'll come to the factory for a week. They'll shadow our people. Then, if they think they need more training, come on back the next month with your team, and we'll train you again.”
This kind of training and customer service is what makes companies like Black Buffalo such an important part of the industry today. We’ve talked before about the training and education needed in the building industry and how that helps to retain skilled team members.
“We also show up on-site when our printer is delivered with two techs to really get them started and reengage them again for what they learned at our factory,” says Michael. When manufacturers and building materials brands embrace this education-focused mindset, it creates higher standards in construction.
New technology is certainly a large part of that education, and it’s more important than ever for building materials brands to get on board. “The mandate for change and technological adoption in construction has never been stronger,” according to research from McKinsey Consulting. “The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to provide additional urgency to the preexisting productivity and data-visibility issues facing construction companies.”
With 3D printing, that means getting your customer to buy in on not just a new product, but a whole new category of building.
Building Innovation + Customer Service
Another way Black Buffalo has innovated their process is how it sells to customers, who rent the equipment from the company and eventually buy it. “We have a rent-to-own platform: 50% of what they rented goes into the purchase price,” says Michael.
The process starts with the customer’s plan, and Black Buffalo helps them determine the project scope, cost and timeline with a scenario analysis. Then, they invite the customer to see a miniature version of their project printed. “So, we'll do a practice run,” explains Michael, “and we'll show them [that] this is exactly your house, your factory, that you're building in miniature scale, and they can watch it.”
Black Buffalo is committed to educating everyone in the industry about the potential of 3D technology solutions in construction and walks customers through the entire building process. “And we show this is how you do a door. This is how you do a window. This is how you do a rafter hanger for the second. This is how you tie the roof in. This is how you leave a space for the conduits and the light switch and the outlets, etc.,” explains Michael. “So, we make it as simple as possible when somebody comes here to understand how it works, how you adapt it in your business.”
Want Even More Insight?
Adapting to new technology and new ways of doing business is key to staying ahead in construction.
Streamlining the process for customers, as Black Buffalo does, makes adapting and building easier for everyone. “It's the efficiency of doing multiple homes is where you really get the cost savings,” explains Michael. “I can build this house cheaper. I can also still make my margin on this less expensive house. And I can build two or three of them in half the time."
The need for technology and more efficiency in construction has been on everyone’s mind, and Michael suggests embracing the changes ahead. “Be open to the new technology. You've got plenty of folks that are going to be honest with you,” says Michael.
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