(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of three articles spotlighting start-ups participating in this year’s “GIGTANK” accelerator that will be showcased at “Demo Day” on July 28. Each has a tie in one way or another to Knoxville as well as Chattanooga.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
If you are old enough, you no doubt remember the famous line from Victor Kiam’s television ads for Remington shavers.
“I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company,” he said in pitching the product.
That quote came to mind when I met Platt Boyd, IV, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Branch Technology. He’s an Auburn University graduate who gave-up a 15-year career in architecture to pursue his vision for better ways to construct buildings.
In fact, Boyd not only changed careers, but he also relocated his family – a wife and four children – to Chattanooga several months ago to participate in this year’s “GIGTANK.”
It’s clearly a big bet, but one that the architect turned entrepreneur is convinced is the right long-term strategy. Boyd came-up with the idea behind Branch Technology two years ago and pursued it at night and on weekends for months.
He is combining novel 3D printing technology, conventional construction materials, and large-scale robotics to create buildings that bridge the divide between the past and the future of construction. Boyd is also working with the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
When we visited Branch Technology’s location in the Chattanooga Business Development Center, we quickly saw samples of Boyd’s approach to construction. We also saw the largest free-form 3D printer in the world. Boyd and his team were in the midst of fine-tuning the equipment.
Materials used to print 3D objects provide the same or stronger structural integrity in a much lighter weight product. In the case of Branch Technology, Boyd explained that “we print the matrix, then add spray foam on one side and concrete on the other.”
The resulting pre-fabricated walls can be shipped wherever at a lower cost.
“It’s an incredibly cost-effect way to build,” Boyd says.
There are other advantages such as customized shapes for a particular part of a house or building.
“3D printing enables shapes you could not do otherwise,” Boyd notes.
The newly installed 3D printer has a 12.5 foot reach on a 33 foot rail and a 25 foot by 58 foot footprint. It is a significant improvement from a year ago when Boyd was using a 3D Doodler pen to make a prototype that weighed one-half ounce but would support 18 pounds of books.
Branch Technology has raised $900,000 thus far with an initial goal of $1.5 million in the near future.
“We’ve been in stealth mode up to now,” Boyd says. “Demo Day” will be the company’s formal debut.