Risks & Rewards of 3D Printing in the Construction Industry

Risks & Rewards of 3D Printing in the Construction Industry

Utilizing 3D printing in both commercial and residential projects has been gaining popularity within the construction industry.  While the benefits may appear endless, there are still risks to be considered before this technology may go mainstream around the United States.

Rewards

  • Major potential for environmentally friendly construction projects and waste reduction.
  • Much shorter construction periods in an industry where delays can be disruptive and costly, it can offer an opportunity to accelerate construction of projects.
  • Health and safety risks are reduced due to ease of manufacturing of 3D printer.
  • Labor costs will be decreased because the printer is more efficient and can also save up to 60% of the cost of building materials.
  • Could allow for customized projects that are either impossible or too expensive with conventional methods.

Risks

  • Other manufacturers and companies in the industry could suffer if the 3D printer is able to produce their items at a cheaper cost.
  • Less of a need for laborers due to the efficiency of the 3D printer – especially during a time of inflation and recession.
  • Need for specially skilled laborers to be able to utilize functions of 3D printer.
  • Errors in printing materials could prove costly during construction and replacement items could be more costly if needed at short notice.
  • Potentially expensive to fix if the 3D printer becomes unusable/broken.

In evaluating these rewards and risks, at least one U.S. state has approved broad-sweeping measures for constructing both commercial and residential properties using 3D printing.  Specifically, Montana recently led an effort to give broad regulatory approval to 3D print walls as a replacement for walls made with concrete masonry units or a standard cored concrete block assembly for all types of construction projects within the state.  As for Florida, in 2021, the City of Tallahassee approved the 3D printing of a single-family home as a part of the City of Tallahassee’s affordable housing construction loan program.  However, no other broad regulatory approval-type measures seem to be in place as of yet.  Despite rising levels of interest in 3D printed single-family homes in the state, the expectation is that buyers will have to wait a few more years before 3D printed homes become prevalent enough for real change to occur. As outlined above, 3D-printed construction in Florida could gain more popularity due to cost cutting measures, efficiency and the increase in safety, but Florida may have some unique concerns not applicable to states such as Montana.  Specifically, more stringent building code requirements covering hurricanes, high-velocity winds and/or flooding may hinder the popularity of 3D printing for the time being.  Otherwise, the aforementioned risks and rewards will have to be critically evaluated by Florida regulatory authorities in the years to come.

  • Emily M. Martin
    Partner

    Emily M. Martin is a partner in the Orlando office of Shutts & Bowen, where she is a member of the Construction Litigation Practice Group.

    Emily concentrates her practice in construction litigation in both state and federal courts as ...

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