New Indemnity Risks Surround Complex 3D Printed Structures

3D printing in the construction sector is anticipated to generate more complex designs, according to innovators using 3D technology to overcome some of the issues surrounding the creation of concrete structures.[1]

There is a strong element of human judgement in the pouring of concrete.  Avoiding the cracking that weakens structures, requires the mixer of the concrete to get things just right, so that the mix can cure at the right temperature and humidity.  Get it wrong and there is always a chance that structures will collapse.

The concrete hardening process can take up to 28 days and full strength needs to be achieved before work can carry on.  Researchers in Singapore have sought to make life easier and speed up this process, by trialling the use of concrete-printing robots.  These come with mechanical arms and can mix concrete both evenly and consistently.  In one trial, involving the creation of a 1.86m x 0.46m x 0.13m structure, it took only two days for the concrete to harden, and just a week for it to reach full strength, despite robots taking just 8 minutes on the task of concrete preparation.

Construction has fallen behind other sectors when it comes to embracing digital processes and technologies. A September 2019 survey of 200 decision makers in the contractors industry saw more than half (54%) admitting that the UK construction sector had been slow to adopt digital technologies, but saying they believed 2020 would be a key year for change.[2] Some argue that the reason for tardiness is that hard-to-control on-site construction environments are not suited to the use of robots and other hi-tech options.

In the robot camp, digital experts believe robots could be deployed on brick-laying duties.  Digitally printed houses have already been erected in a community in Mexico, by one Texan company. People left homeless after a weather incident or humanitarian crisis, could be greatly benefited, if provided with digitally printed concrete homes, which could be put up in less than a day.

But if more complex structures and designs begin to emerge due to the faith in digital concrete solutions, an insurance risk will need to be noted.  Architects who start to use robotic processes within their thinking, could rely too heavily on the capabilities of concrete-printing robots and create designs that are too ambitious.  Liability claims could result from any misjudgement with regard to the strength of the designed and built structures.  

Professional indemnity (PI) protection is considered a necessity for architects, planners, surveyors and consultants who deliver advice and designs to clients.  Insurance brokers are handling such risks and helping clients renew and buy cover on a regular basis and understand how to make a professional’s case when liaising with an underwriter. If you need a broker to help you find PI insurance, or try to make it more affordable, please get in touch with us.


[1] https://www.imeche.org/news/news-article/will-conservative-construction-industry-adopt-robots-for-manual-tasks

[2]  https://www.pbctoday.co.uk/news/planning-construction-news/uk-construction-industry-2020/62641/