Technology in Construction: the use of 3D printing

In this first instalment of our Technology in Construction series, we look at 3D printing and the potential legal and insurance related issues arising out of its use.

Summary

As the construction industry continues to embrace disruptive technologies such as 3D printing, the legal and insurance related impact it will have on its users remains mostly uncharted. In this blog post, we discuss the potential benefits of this disruptive technology as well as highlighting some possible areas for dispute.

The rise of 3D printing

From a seemingly standing start, the construction industry is now embracing technology enthusiastically. 3D printing is one innovative technology that is now being used in the construction industry. This disruptive technology is challenging the conventional approach to the design and construction of buildings. Designs previously considered complex can now be implemented much more easily by algorithms, speeding up the construction process, reducing waste and, importantly, improving safety by minimising the potential for on-site accidents. Not only does this technology have the potential drastically to reduce costs (both labour and material), its potential to reduce waste and CO2 emissions is also very attractive.

Whilst 3D printing is yet to be implemented in the construction industry wholesale, several international contractors are looking to develop this technology. Bouygues Construction, for example, has experimented with it, using an industrial printer to build a house in Nantes, France, in collaboration with Nantes University. The BatiPrint3DTM technology used in Nantes has the ability to deposit three layers; the first and third layers are expanding foam that creates the mould for the second layer of concrete. The printer has the ability to produce various shapes creating rooms and openings of various sizes. The foam remains in place providing a double layer of insulation and protection.

A digital model of the house guides the printer by sensor, which lays the concrete/foam combination directly onto the foundation slab. This construction process in Nantes used less concrete - which meant a 75% reduction in CO2 emissions - and took just three days to complete.

3D printing can potentially address not only the environmental impact of the construction industry, but also assist with addressing the global housing shortage. As the world’s population is predicted to reach 8.5 billion by 20301, the demand for housing is set to increase.

Potential legal and insurance issues

Whilst the use of 3D printing on sites across the world looks likely to increase, the potential legal and insurance impact is yet to be fully tested in the English courts. Clearly, a new set of liability issues will arise with the advent and use of all new technology like this. Traditional safety issues (on site accidents and similar) may reduce when using technology, but the potential for other issues to arise, both during construction and with the finished product, will need to be carefully considered, as will the potential liability of the various parties involved.

For example, if there are issues in respect of the design drawings used to guide the printer, does liability rest with the designer or the 3D printer programmer? If there was a malfunction in the 3D printer that results in defective workmanship, does liability rest with the contractor, or the manufacturer of the 3D printer? If the 3D printer is the subject of a cyber-attack, will liability for any delay or defective work be covered? The responsibility for such issues will often depend on the terms of the relevant contracts in place. It is imperative that, prior to using such technology on site, construction companies ensure that potential liability for any design defects or cyber-attacks arising out of its use are adequately covered by professional indemnity insurance and/or cyber risk insurance.


1 https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/trends/Population2030.pdf  

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.