3D printing is starting to appear in construction and real estate development projects. Is it time to add this hot new technology to your business plans?

The technology only recently became ubiquitous, but three-dimensional (3D) printing was first introduced in the 1980s as a quick way to create prototypes. Today it’s making a huge impact on many industries, including housing and construction. How should these innovations figure into your real estate development plans?

3D printing has been implemented in a variety of positive, game-changing ways. It’s used to build water pipe parts for earthquake relief, to create organs and prosthetics, and to sustain underwater ecosystems by helping coral grow.

But it’s also begun to appear in the real estate and housing industry in ways that are too disruptive to ignore. In this post, we’ll look at what 3D printing is, discuss the impact it has already had on real estate development, and consider what that means for your business.

What is 3D printing?

The process of 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, involves the creation of 3D structures from digital models. Layers of material are used to build each object, allowing the creation of complex shapes of all sizes.

The model is built in a computer-aided design (CAD) program or copied from the physical world with a 3D scanner. Printing software converts the model into a file for 3D printing, and a printer uses that file to deposit layers of material that build up the physical object. The building material is usually melted plastic filament, but the techniques have already been used with metal, concrete, and other housing-quality materials.

The 3D impact on real estate

3D printing can be more economical than traditional manufacturing methods because this process often wastes less material and saves time. The technology is already providing cheap housing for disaster victims and could be an important solution for low-income housing challenges.

For example, in Texas in 2018, an entire 3D-printed home was built in less than 24 hours for less than $4,000. In another project, 3D-printed homes in HuaSheng Tenga reportedly used 60% less material than traditional construction methods.

This technology may be able to reduce material and labor costs significantly, and it’s being considered as a solution for housing shortages around the world.

In just the few examples above, we can already see that 3D printing offers several engineering advantages over traditional construction:

  • It enables environmentally friendly production solutions.
  • The process can create unique structural shapes that are not possible with traditional manufacturing.
  • Printing can use significantly less material and time to build a house (sometimes just one day) than traditional methods.

3D printing and your ROI equation

By 2021, Gartner predicts that 40% of manufacturing enterprises will have 3D printing centers of excellence. The variety of materials this technology can work with — including plastics, ceramics, glass, metals, and more — could unlock new production processes that “drive new value propositions for customers,” says Gartner, and “impact an organization’s business model.”

If 3D printing continues to prove a cost-effective alternative to traditional manufacturing, that could change the return on investment (ROI) equation for construction businesses across the world. Instead of designing for cost-effectiveness, it may become more advantageous to manufacture for aesthetics or ideal structural design.

3D printing could also allow production to be completely customized to account for low-volume and on-demand applications.

Accelerated project completion

Another important thing to consider is the speed at which housing projects could be completed using 3D printing. Projects like Apis Cor’s 24-hour home construction could shorten build times to the extreme.

Increased competition

It’s also important to recognize that this could be a disruptive technology, and traditional builders may find themselves falling behind upstart firms that adopt 3D printing techniques more quickly or efficiently than established firms. As we’ve seen in fields from taxis to retail, it’s not that hard to convince customers that a new technology is easier, faster, and cheaper than the process they’re used to — just ask Uber and Amazon.

What steps should you take now?

Because 3D printing isn’t necessarily available to every building company yet, it’s important to keep up with the top trends and research around the technology. It may already be possible to use 3D printed materials in current building projects to save time and money, even if the entire home isn’t built that way.

It’s also wise to start comparing prices of home components and figuring out which areas could see the biggest time and money savings with 3D printing. Pay attention to how your target audience is responding to the 3D printing craze — it’s possible home buyers or those looking to build a home don’t fully trust or understand the technology yet. You could use this as an opportunity to educate them by posting news stories, or even to judge market interest.

For more advice on implementing the latest trends and technologies into your business, contact the team at No Boundaries Advisors. We’ll analyze your current strategy and help you with profitability and business planning.

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