The pitfalls of 3D printing

In the fourth of our series on new technology, Rebecca Morjaria explains the legal considerations of 3D printing and who is responsible if it goes wrong

For many of us the idea of 3D printing has until recently only existed in science fiction movies. However, the concept of 3D printing was developed in the 1980s and is now becoming increasingly common.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing (technically referred to as additive manufacturing) is essentially a computer controlled process that successively layers a designated material to create a three-dimensional object. It can be distinguished from the traditional subtractive manufacturing process, whereby the material is cut and manipulated into the desired item.

3D printing is starting to become a reality on site. For example, in 2014, Arup produced 1,200 customised steel nodes using 3D printing for the Grote Marktstraat project in The Hague. In addition, in 2016, a team from the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, in Barcelona, Spain, used micro-reinforced concrete to construct a pedestrian bridge for the first time using a 3D printer. 

Benefits for construction

The construction industry has always faced conflicts between cost and quality. The ability to 3D print products should become increasingly attractive, as it offers the opportunity to increase quality at a lower cost. In particular, it should allow more design freedom, adaptability and accurate construction of bespoke or complex items, while reducing the need for complex work to be carried out on site.

Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of Southern California has estimated that 3D printing will reduce the cost of commercial construction by 25-30% in materials and 45-55% in labour. 

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