Legal & Claims Concerns Raised
by 3D Printing & BIM
BY EARL K. CANTWELL
As three-dimensional (3D) printing and Building Information
Modeling (BIM) evolves, becomes easier to obtain, and cheaper to operate, they will become more widely used. However,
it’s important for contractors to consider the risks along with
This article presents an overview of how each technology
works and details risks surrounding these technologies that
contractors should consider before expanding their use.
How Does It Work?
3D printing is a process by which raw materials are applied
and solidified into three-dimensional objects through computer application and control. Most 3D printing involves a
process called “additive manufacturing” to create objects
whereby multiple thin layers of material are deposited onto
one another to form the desired shape and object.
This three-step process involves software, preparation,
and actual printing. First, computer-aided design (CAD)
software creates a blueprint for the item to be printed.
Then, the printer is prepared by loading raw materials and
transporting the printer to the site of printing. (This step
also includes cleaning up debris after the item has been
printed.) Finally, the item is printed using the digital blueprint and raw materials. It divides the digital file into incredibly thin two-dimensional cross-sections, or “slices,” that are
placed atop one another to deposit material, creating the
item in the blueprint.
Substituting manpower with machine, 3D printing can
reduce the labor force and workplace injuries and claims, as
well as make it possible to perform onsite work after hours
and without hourly or shift length restrictions. Also, 3D
printing can reduce manpower and costs in the supply chain,
as the machine can create and assemble structures onsite
without packing, shipping, unloading, staging, and storing of
materials. Plus, 3D printers use up to 95% of raw material,
reducing waste and material costs. 1
Legal & Claims Concerns
While there are many potential benefits of 3D printing in
the construction industry, the underlying legal and claims
concerns are less obvious.
It may be more difficult to find and assign responsibility
for defective products. Also, it is unclear if the legal rules
that govern the sale of “goods” as opposed to “services” will
apply. Defining and determining who is a commercial seller
for purposes of product liability is another legal and claims
issue. It may also be more difficult to determine which
participants in the production chain owe the purchaser or
owner a duty of care.
Contract documents and records should include the suppliers
of 3D printed objects, both on and off site. The increasing use
of such technology also renders it important to select technologically savvy contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers.
Contractors and construction managers need the experience
and equipment to test and evaluate 3D printed objects.
During and at the conclusion of a project, with respect to 3D
printed objects, it is important to obtain and exchange product warranty information. Consideration should be given to
procuring or expanding tail insurance and completed operations coverage to help guard against product failures.
Determine Responsible Party
The first legal concern associated with using 3D printing in
the construction field is that it may be difficult to identify the
party responsible for a defect. For example, responsibility
could potentially be attributed to the:
• Software creator for a software malfunction;
• Supplier of the printing material for substandard
• Contractor for defective item design;
• Printer manufacturer for an error in printer
• Printer designer for a malfunction in a 3D printer.