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3D printing said to revolutionize building industry - but how soon?

NAIOP Central Florida members were shown slides Thursday of an apartment building in China made completely from materials that were employed using 3D printing.
NAIOP Central Florida members were shown slides Thursday of an apartment building in China made completely from materials that were employed using 3D printing.

Orlando developers and builders will soon be turning their approach towards 3D printing that at its maximum potency will make current ways of construction obsolete and create projects like homes in days, not months, speakers said Thursday at an industry meeting.

3D printing is the process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. 3D printed objects can be made up of anything from paper to concrete. The 3D object is created by laying down successive layers of the material until the entire object is formed. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.

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At a meeting Thursday held by the NAIOP Central Florida chapter, Todd Jones, principal of RealAdvice, a conceptualization firm, showed slide after slide of homes, stores, commercial buildings and even clothing made through 3D printing.

The benefits of using a 3D approach are cost effectiveness, speed and accuracy, Jones said.

And to give an idea of where 3D printing may be headed, in China this year a 24-foot-high by 50-foot-long printer put up a five-story apartment building in 10 hours.

Right now, Jones said, some architects in Orlando are using the technology to create 3D printed models for their builder clients.

That is about as far as it currently goes in the construction industry, although the situation will change in the next five to 10 years and builders will come to rely on 3D printing to construct homes and office buildings, Jones said. He sees homes being built in 24 hours and subdivisions going up in less than 10 days.

The reason 3D printing is so fast is because machines are quicker and cheaper than humans, Jones said.

But right now, "We are in the Flintstones stage, although it won't be long until we are in the Jetsons," Jones said.

For instance, a 3D printer that would create flooring or roofing currently costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, Jones said. The real industry growth will come as the prices come down, he added.

Broader use won't just rewrite the way buildings go up, it will change the building industry's labor force, he said. Bricklayers, floor layers, drywall installers and possibly roofers will no longer be necessary, according to Jones.

Lee McNeil, in business development at general contractor Williams Company, said he sees efficiencies in 3D printing.

"We do pre-fabbing, but it is off-site," McNeil said. "To be able to do it on-site and customize it is impressive."

But McNeil said Williams is not likely to get a large 3D printer anytime soon, because the technology is still cost prohibitive.

"I could see us in 10 years using this," McNeil said.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at ktalley@growthspotter.com or (407) 420-5176. Follow GrowthSpotter on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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