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Will 3D Printing Change Urban Construction in Tenn.?

Branch Technologies, a company based in Chattanooga, Tenn., is trying to change the way building structures are created with its 3D printing process. The company recently received a $300,000 state grant.

3D printed house detail
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(TNS) — A 7-year-old Chattanooga company that is helping to revolutionize the building of exteriors for offices, parking decks and storefronts is getting some extra state aid to propel its growth.

Branch Technologies, which uses 3D printing to erect building structures and facades that offer more variable designs and better energy efficiency, was awarded a state matching grant Monday to help the 50-employee company further its growth.

Tennessee state Rep. Patsy Hazelwood and Sen. Bo Watson, both Chattanooga Republicans who helped include the record high funding for the Launch Tennessee grants, handed a $300,000 check to Branch Technologies Monday as part of their efforts to use extra funding in this year’s budget help spur more high-tech and high-growth companies like Branch Technologies.

“These companies are building these great high-tech, knowledge-based jobs of the future in Tennessee,” said Abby Trotter, interim director of Launch TN, the state’s development agency for startups and high-growth companies. “The state of Tennessee believes in them and is investing in them now.”

The extra funding will create a new research and development position at Branch Technologies, outfit more robots in the company’s Riverfront Parkway and help develop and print new polymers for the company’s patented Freeform 3D printing process.

Platt Boyd, an architect who started Branch Technologies in 2014 and relocated the business a year later from Montgomery, Alabama to Chattanooga, moved to the company’s current 40,000-square-foot production site on Riverfront Parkway in 2018.

Branch Technologies began as a three-person company in the Hamilton County Business Development Center and has been aided in its growth from everything from GigTank and the Ten accelerator program by LaunchTN to research and financial aid from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, also known as America’s Seed Fund.

“The support we have gotten from Tennessee was definitely a draw to bring us here and have really aided in our company’s growth,” Platt said. “There is a real network of startups, a number of accelerator programs to help small businesses grow and the resources of places like ORNL up the road to help us with new materials, designs and innovation.”

Boyd said Branch Technologies has raised $22 million of equity capital to support the growing venture. Although Boyd declined to reveal his company sales, he hopes to double the size of the company in the next few years with new ventures outside the United States and continued improvements in both the materials and technologies used for the 3D printing of building structures.

The 3D printing of building materials allows for creative designs and more insulation than conventional building approaches and, although still more expensive than conventional building approaches, is continuing to get cheaper as technicians find better production techniques and materials, Boyd said.

“This is like a dream come true for an architect,” Boyd said. “You can do things that you would have never been able to do before without the exorbitant costs required for such designs.”

Earlier this year, Branch Technologies erected the exterior of the new Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union branch on 20th street as one of the first 3D printed commercial buildings in America with a totally unique wave design to reflect the company’s logo. Branch Technologies also recently completed unique exteriors for a major parking structure and the U.S. Space and Rocket museum in Huntsville, Alabama, where the part of the building exterior reflects the surface of the moon.

The company is also working on contracts with the Department of Defense and NASA for projects on other planets using 3D printed materials.

“There’s a lot of waste with the materials [in conventional construction] and our process is very efficient and sustainable,” Boyd said. “We continue to improve our processes and that should create a lot of opportunities in the future.”

©2021 Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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