The future of construction could be arriving in South Florida sooner than you think.

Although it still sounds futuristic to many people, 3D printing is rapidly becoming mainstream as the devices and materials become more affordable. You can now pick up an at-home 3D printer for about $200, grab some thermoplastic for $40 a pound, and create a 3D model right in your office. Users can print with other materials, too, and there are more expensive machines available for complex or large jobs.

The construction industry is starting to employ this technology, and we already see some 3D-printed buildings appearing in various parts of the world. Of course, the printers and materials used in construction are far more expensive—but they also have the potential to save firms significant time and money on large projects.

These printers aren’t the small, box-like devices you’d put on a desk. Instead, they have large mounted robotic arms that lay down layers of concrete at rapid speeds, eliminating the need to place and mold this material in the traditional way.

Here’s a look at this emerging technology and what it could mean for commercial real estate. 

A brief history of 3D printing in construction

There’s a misconception that 3D printers can only process plastic and other lightweight materials. In reality, it all depends on the printer used. Some models can process cement, and it’s those units that are driving the technology’s usage in construction.

Before being employed in the actual construction of buildings, architects were merely using 3D printing to create scale models. But in 2004, Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor at the University of Southern California, attempted to 3D print an entire wall. The event is recognized as the construction industry’s first foray into 3D printing, but it’s far from the last.

In 2014, the first 3D-printed home was completed in Amsterdam through a collaboration by Ultimaker and Dus Architects. And another partnership between the Vesteda housing corporation and the Eindhoven University of Technology saw inhabitants move into a 3D-printed home in The Netherlands in 2021. A lot happened in 2016, too, as the first 3D-printed mansion was completed in China, and the first office building was finished in Dubai.

The Dubai office building is particularly important because it’s fully functional, 2,700-square feet, and all the materials were printed in only 17 days. From there, it took an additional three months to finish the structure and complete the interior design. 

The first occupied 3D-printed house in the world might be in Nantes, France, as a family moved into a 1,022 square-foot structure in 2018. It took only 54 hours to print the materials and an additional four months to add doors, interior fixtures, windows, and a roof. The project was 20% cheaper than one using traditional construction materials.

What this means for CRE

While it’s impossible to say if 3D-printed commercial buildings will overtake the traditional way of doing things, some arrows point in that direction.

The speed at which the materials are produced is one reason 3D printing could be a gamechanger. For instance, Khoshnevis later built a 2,500-square-foot concrete house in just 24 hours, and the mansion in China, which includes earthquake-proof walls and is made from about 20 tons of concrete, took only 45 days to print.

Using this technology for commercial construction could also reduce the number of workers needed to complete these projects, helping solve a massive industry labor shortage. For example, the office in Dubai used 50% less staffing than traditional building methods, saving significant money in the process.

Overall, 3D printing in CRE should reduce timelines and expenses considerably. However, there are still plenty of regulatory issues and approvals to deal with, and this construction method isn’t yet normalized. Still, it’s undoubtedly going to gain popularity because of the efficiency it achieves in construction projects.

3D buildings in South Florida?

With South Florida going through a population boom and becoming a popular spot for major companies to build their headquarters, there will undoubtedly be significant demand for new construction in the coming years. We don’t know how soon 3D printing will become a substantial part of the local equation, though Florida’s first 3D-printed house was underway in Tallahassee last July. Nevertheless, the technology’s worldwide usage suggests that this form of construction may become viable—and perhaps common—sooner than you might think.

Morris Southeast Group has its fingers on the pulse of South Florida’s CRE market and offers insights to help our clients make ROI-based investment decisions. Contact Morris Southeast Group at 954.474.1776 today to learn more. You can also speak with Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or kenmorris@morrissegroup.com.