Deloitte Discusses 3D Printing and Commercial Real Estate
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on November 07, 2016 |
Bob O’Brien, Global Real Estate Sector Leader for Deloitte, discusses the impact of 3D printing on r...

Technological advancements don't simply affect the lives of individuals, but actually reshape entire societies. What could be more indicative of this power than the change that happens to the buildings in which we live and work?

Deloitte recently highlighted the effects of new technology on our cities and buildings in its 2017 Commercial Real Estate Industry Outlook. In addition to trends associated with data analysis and the InternetofThings (IoT), the global research and service firm examined 3D printing and its role in the world of commercial real estate. Bob O’Brien, Global Real Estate Sector Leader for Deloitte, spoke to ENGINEERING.com about how additive manufacturing (AM) may change the way that buildings are constructed in the near and longterm.

3D-Printed Buildings

So far, a number of 3D-printed buildings have been erected, with China's WinSun probably the most prolific in this sphere as it 3D prints walls offsite and assembles them on location to construct entire usable structures. In addition to 10 small houses, a villa and a five-story apartment complex, WinSun has 3D-printed an office building in Dubai that is actually being used.

Although the technology is quickly evolving, O’Brien was quick to point out that it may be more than a decade before buildings are 3Dprinted on a widespread basis, indicating the regulatory concerns around additive construction, particularly in developed countries.

“3D printing is still at early stages in terms of impacting commercial real estate and engineering and construction,” O'Brien said. “I think you'll see a phased implementation. You'll see architectural components of buildings using 3D printing within the next decade. I think that here in the U.S., given the regulatory reform that needs to happen and the complexity and sophistication of the buildings that the market demands, we're a decade or more away from buildings being built using 3D printing.”

Entire buildings may face obstacles in terms of meeting existing construction code, but O'Brien suggested that such components as roofing or siding may be 3Dprinted first in order to introduce elements of customization into buildings. This will simultaneously demonstrate the capabilities of the technology and provide a stepping stone toward regulatory approval and full-scale implementation.

“The first place we'll likely see it, for example, warehouses, sheds, relatively simple buildings before we get to more complex buildings like multifamily residential or office or retail,” O'Brien added.

Outside of WinSun's efforts, O’Brien’s hypothesis is already proving to be true. XtreeE in France has so far 3Dprinted a structural component for integration into a children's playground and a concrete pavilion, which serves more of an aesthetic purpose than a functional one. Ai Build, too, has begun with a pavilion before moving on to more ambitious projects. Branch Technology in Chattanooga, Tenn., first 3Dprinted artistic structures and has only now begun work on an actual dwelling. It remains to be seen if the home it is currently building will actually serve a functional purpose or as more of a proofofconcept.

The 3D-printed XtreeE Pavilion.(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)
The 3D-printed XtreeE Pavilion.(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

While these companies work to demonstrate the possibilities of 3D printing, there may be regulatory changes that occur to make additive construction easier to integrate into the larger industry, according to O'Brien. “In the U.S., many cities, towns and governmental jurisdictions have strict building codes around the nature of the products that can be used to build a building, primarily focused on things like fire safety, the safety of drinking water and that sort of thing,” O'Brien explained. “In an environment where you've got such significant existing building codes, those codes would ultimately have to be adapted to permit 3D printing.”

3D Printing within Buildings

Although it may take longer for additive construction to see widespread adoption, one trend that has already begun to take shape is 3D printing within buildings. While it may not seem that obvious when first considered, this trend actually affects the way that commercial buildings may be designed and built.

Pointing to retail applications of 3D printing like fabricating shoes and customizing jeans, O'Brien suggested that the technology is increasingly being incorporated into traditional commercial real estate locations. This, in turn leads to design considerations when constructing such retail spaces.

“If you own a retail center, you might want to start thinking through the implications of 3D printing for your center in terms of anything from the space and power aspects of 3D printing that would need to be built into tenants' spaces to the environmental considerations around 3D printing in tenants' spaces,” O'Brien said. Considerations for retailers that may implement 3D printing might include how melting thermoplastics will affect customers, in the case of fused deposition modeling for instance.

Because AM is often seen as a means of localizing the production of goods, O'Brien believes that there will be fewer legislative hurdles in places like the United States, where onshoring of jobs is seen as a positive trend. “Consequently, I think that you'll likely see either a lack of government stepping in to put in regulatory restrictions around 3D printing except perhaps as it relates to environmental concerns,” O'Brien said. “Or you’ll see relatively simple regulatory reform happening to allow it.”

Smart Cities

Outside of 3D printing, Deloitte also examined real estate trends associated with IoT, ridesharing and autonomous vehicles, among other things. O'Brien sees IoT as playing a key factor in the future of cities and real estate, suggesting that sensors and other devices are increasingly used to make buildings “smarter.”

These tools are implemented to perform everything from tailoring a room's climate to suit a specific person to regulating the schedules of elevators within a building using machine learning. “During peak use hours, smart technology is being used to determine which elevators ought to go to which floors and how they ought to circulate up and down the shaft in such a way to maximize movement and minimize waiting times for the tenants of the building,” O'Brien said.

Transportation, however, will end up reshaping entire cities, just as it always has, according to O'Brien. “Whenever there have been major advances in transportation technology, they have created fortunes in real estate—whether that’s the first trains crossing the country and the national railroad network, the invention of the car, interstate highway systems, or air travel becoming more common. Real estate undergoes huge changes. The combination of car sharing and ultimately driverless vehicles is going to have the same level of impact on commercial real estate that some of these other major advances in technology have had.”

For instance, O'Brien said, new building designs are taking into account the fact that tenants may begin to own fewer cars by partnering with city car rental services like Zipcar or ridesharing firms that give residents easy access to transportation. In commercial real estate, parking lots are being designed in such a way that, if fewer vehicles will use garages in the future, the building owner can retrofit vehicle spaces and convert them for other uses.

3D printing will contribute to the so-called intelligence of smart cities by reducing the need to ship products long distances, as products are made locally and on demand. Less need for inventory space will free retail locations from wasted stockpile and storage.

Ultimately, O'Brien envisions the smart cities of the future as being “more efficient, greener, more sustainable, using less energy, less resources, creating less waste and creating an enhanced living environment for the residents. We would expect that the future of mobility will make cities more pedestrian friendly. We would expect that the live-work-play environment created by all of this will continue the trend towards urbanization.”

O'Brien added one caveat: “The one wild card here I think is what impact will driverless cars have on this trend of urbanization and densification that we've been seeing over the last half a decade if not decade. If you're able to multitask during a commute, if cars are able to anticipate and avoid traffic jams and move at higher speeds, shortening commutes, will that cause more suburban sprawl? Will more people choose to live outside urban centers as a result of easier commutes? That's the question that I don't think anybody's really sure about.”

The thing about the future is that, barring all technological advancements and psychic phenomena, it's impossible to know what will really occur. While Deloitte may have put in the research, we won't know what's going to happen until it happens. To consider more of Deloitte's ideas on the impact of new technologies on commercial real estate, you can read its report here.

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