By Eric Peterson | Feb 20, 2023
West Jordan, Utah
Pikus 3D Concrete spun out of Pikus Concrete Contracting after the latter company's acquisition in 2021. Rob Pikus, president of Pikus Concrete, had started the business after investigating additive concrete technologies that were disrupting the market in Europe.
At the time, Pikus "was noticing the shortage of carpenters, and he thought the application of additive manufacturing -- being able to print concrete -- was in his mind revolutionary," says Baldwin.
That's also partly due to a longtime lack of innovation in concrete. "It was about the same as the Romans did it -- just some Portland cement, some boards, you pour in some concrete finishes, you take your boards off of the concrete when it's curing, and you're done. There's a wall. It's pretty much been the same technology for 2,000 years."
Pikus 3D is angling to change that in the new millennium. "We started doing business in 2019," says Baldwin. "That's when we bought the robot, built the building. It took several million dollars to do that."
Then Pikus 3D embarked on a long course of R&D to perfect the process. "For two and a half years, it was dialing in the recipe," says Baldwin. "It took some time. We are pioneers in the industry. We are really the first going after the commercial space in 3D-printed concrete and solving specific use cases."
Leveraging hardware from several partners, the resulting 3K 3D concrete printing (3DCP) system is capable of mixing polymer, mortar, and activator. The mix is automatically adjusted by software based on such factors as print design, print length, and overhang angle.
"We have the only 3K system in the world," says Baldwin. "It's possibly the tallest 3D concrete printer in the world at 16 feet high."
The system uses premium materials from Sika to make mortar that "outperforms commercial concrete by about three times," says Baldwin. "We cure out at about 8,000 to 10,000 PSI. Your standard commercial concrete will be about 3,000."
Baldwin joined Pikus 3D as president in mid-2022. By the end of the year, Pikus 3D was taking on projects for customers like Disney and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. "Big companies are proving out to be some of the early adopters, particularly corporate headquarters, some artwork," says Baldwin. "What we're really doing now is a statement piece for some amount of real estate that is a focal point, an entrance, a lobby, or even some green space."
The company fabricates in a 9,115-square-foot facility with highly automated technology. "Most of our efforts go into design and engineering," says Baldwin. "Because every piece constructed is a one-off, it has to be iterated. We do that digitally with an architect."
Precast concrete "is great if you're going to create a mold and print out thousands of these objects, but if you're going to do a one-off, a unique piece, a statement piece, this is where our technology really sings, because we don't have to create a mold and throw it away for one object," says Baldwin.
About one-sixth the weight of precast, 3D-printed concrete is "really unmatched in terms of form and design because the 3K system can achieve overhangs of up to 45 degrees," he adds. "By the time the print head comes around, it's kind of a delicate balance. We want it to be cured enough to hold the weight of the next layer, but not so cured that it doesn't bond."
The forms cure to 3,000 PSI in 24 hours, versus the cast-in-place norm of 28 days. "It's very rapid, but it has to be if you're printing that fast," says Baldwin. "Most of our objects will print out in 28 to 48 minutes, and then we can move them in 10 minutes."
For the Kennedy Center work, the timeline was a mere five weeks, too little time for cast-in-place or precast. "Someone happened to know about us, they gave us a call, and we were able to go from concept to print to ship and install in about 30 days," says Baldwin.
The company is growing rapidly, and forecasts call for more of the same. "We've doubled revenues in the last year," says Baldwin. "We expect to surpass seven figures this year, and then 3X growth for the next two years is expected."
Challenges: "Our largest challenge is awareness," says Baldwin. "Many architects and engineers have not heard of a 3K system."
Opportunities: "There are niches within landscape architecture, within facades, and within structural that are all businesses unto themselves, and I think that's going to be key for us in the next three years if we maintain focus," says Baldwin.
"Once [architects] play with the medium a little bit and get used to it, they really get into creative mode and start creating some cool things," he notes. "When we think of concrete, we normally don't think of something we can add fire to, or water, or LED lighting. That's because we typically think of it being solid and hard to work with. There's a form factor we have unlike any technology out there, so our ability to plan in a fire feature or water or lighting, in addition to the beauty of the curves, really makes for exponential variety. This isn't just about building a scalable business in construction, it's really about scaling creativity. It's giving access to more designers and creators to do something more free-form that couldn't ever have been created until now."
Needs: Room to grow is at the top of the list. "In the next 12 months, we will absolutely be busting at the seams with our space," says Baldwin. "We plan on building other plants around the nation, maybe Orlando, maybe West Coast as demand picks up, and that will allow us to respond even faster."
With that, he adds, "We're going to need more talent: people that are incredible designers to engage with architects."