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More complex designs could be the up and coming trend

More Complex 3D Concrete Designs Could Carry New Indemnity Risks

Jun 2020

More complex designs could be the up and coming trend in the world of construction, according to innovators who are already using 3D printing to overcome some of the issues that can occur when creating concrete structures.[1]

The pouring of concrete is not an exact science, with human judgement and experience often required to ensure the mix cures at the required temperature and humidity to prevent the cracking that could make structures weak and prone to collapse.

To overcome this issue – and speed up the concrete hardening process that can take up to 28 days before full strength is achieved – Singapore-based researchers have been running trials with concrete printing robots, fitted with mechanical arms and the ability to achieve an even and consistent blend of mixed concrete.  It took only two days for a 1.86m x 0.46m x 0.13m structure to harden and this achieved full strength within a week.  The whole robotic mixing process was also carried out in super-quick time – just 8 minutes.

This is a groundbreaking development in construction, which is an industry lagging behind others in terms of its adoption of digital technologies.  The argument often mooted for this is that construction sites are hard-to-control environments and the use of robots may be impossible to achieve amidst all the on-site activity taking place.

Statistics show many contractors and engineering executives have not yet adopted data analytics, so introducing robotic technologies could be some way off.  A survey in September 2019 found 54% of 200 decision makers in the contractors industry surveyed, believed the UK construction sector had been slow to adopt digital technologies. The belief was that 2020 would be a key year for change.[2]

Those behind the robotic technologies suggest robots could be deployed on brick-laying duties and even print in 3D for digital print houses.  This type of construction has already been used in Mexico, where Texan company, Icon, unveiled a community of printed houses.  Such single-storey concrete homes could have a future as shelters for those left homeless after a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis, with the build-time being between a half and a full day.

With this new approach to concrete mixing offering the opportunity to create more complex structures and designs, a new risk could be on the horizon.  As architects start to embrace the capabilities of robots, their own professional expertise could be tested.  Designs could potentially rely too heavily in all stages of the ‘mix’ coming together to deliver the desired design integrity.  Should an architect get this wrong or be too over-confident in the materials and robotic handling of processes, liability claims could result, should any failure in the design lead to financial losses or loss of life.

Professional indemnity protection is an important consideration for any architect, planner, surveyor or consultant offering advice or designs to clients.  In recent years, it has been harder to come by and premiums have risen sharply since the Grenfell Tower disaster but that does not mean building sector professionals do not require it.  There are ways to try to retain existing cover at policy renewal, even if the insurer is not keen on underwriting professional indemnity risks. If you need new cover, there are ways of making a risk look as attractive as possible to an insurer.

For this to happen, architects and consultants need to work with an experienced insurance broker with construction sector knowledge.  Use our ‘Find a Local Broker’ tool to help with this.