The promise of 3D printing

June 25, 2014 admin

Reshaping our thinking about how things can and should be done, the real estate industry is one of many seeking to take advantage of all the promise 3D printing has to offer.

Take, for instance, the planned construction of one home in Amsterdam. Rather than being built by hand, the 20-foot by 20-foot 3D Print Canal House will be “printed into existence” from a digital model, reports the Urban Land Institute. Layer upon layer of melted plastic material will comprise the prototype home — consisting of 13 printed rooms — which will be on display for three years and undergo transformations as the world of 3D printing evolves. The project already has garnered a visit from U.S. President Barack Obama, as well as from developers and real estate bankers.

Some of the goals of 3D printing in home construction include:

  • Shorter, more efficient production time
  • Greater ability to address urbanization and disaster-relief housing needs
  • Recycling waste materials into print materials
  • Eliminating transportation costs
  • Personalized architecture
  • Home mobility

Even in the electronics space, 3D printing has the potential to transform what’s available at neighborhood convenience stores, such as made-to-order customizable cell phones, according to Pippa Malmgren, founder of DRPM Group, who explained the effect 3D printing will have on the built environment at the 2014 ULI Europe Annual Conference.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts

And don’t forget to decorate. Plastic is far from the only material that can be used in the 3D printing of homes and building interiors. Emerging Objects is currently designing interiors for 3D Printed House 1.0 for the Jin Hai Lake Resort in Beijing. Not only is the house a cross between traditional construction methods and 3D printing, but it utilizes renewable and innovative materials to create 3D-printed interior bricks and tiles made out of items such as salt and a unique cement polymer. One material, saltygloo, is being used for the interior walls. It combines harvested salt with glue, resulting in a strong, waterproof, lightweight, translucent and inexpensive product.

Setting the above project apart from others covered by is its reliance on 3D printer farms with printers of many shapes and sizes. “A printer farm insures constant production of manageable building components to make large assemblies, whereas if one large machine breaks, all production stops until repairs are made,” Ronald Rael, CEO of Emerging Objects, told in a recent article about the house.

The promise of 3D printing provides much for institutional real estate investors and their tenants to consider. Office space, for example, could be customized for tenants as their workforce needs change in light of telecommuting and potential desires to create more open floor plans for greater collaboration. And sustainability practices could be encouraged through the use of recyclable and renewable resources in 3D printing techniques.

What benefits — or problems — do you see 3D printing bringing to the real estate industry in the years to come?

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Jennifer-Molloy91x119Jennifer Molloy is editor of The Institutional Real Estate Letter – Asia Pacific.

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