Innovation technologies: 3D printing and real estate

Selective laser sintering and bionic structures? The vocabulary of additive manufacturing may sound abstract. However, the changes brought about by the new manufacturing processes are all the more tangible. This applies not only to the companies themselves, but also to the industrial real estate they use.

The idea of 3D printing is by no means new. Devices that create three-dimensional structures at the touch of a button have been available on the market since 1988. Nevertheless, it has taken about three decades to further develop the corresponding processes - and to make the technology relevant for the entire manufacturing industry.

Meanwhile, additive manufacturing is reaching its physical limits very rarely: both large structures such as a recently printed 37.7-meter long beam and the smallest individual parts can be printed with micrometer precision. All that is needed is a corresponding file. A 3D printer then produces any shape from a powdery or granular raw material - without the need for a minimum quantity or molds, as is the case with the classic injection molding process.

In addition, in 3D printing processes the individual structures can "grow" bionically similar to cells and are not dependent on shape specifications that require the screwing or welding of individual parts. There are now numerous variants of 3D printing, each with its own strengths and areas of application: From laser sintering, in which production takes place via a laser beam, to stereolithography, in which liquid plastics are cured by light.

Even complex shapes and structures are no problem for the 3D printer.
Even complex shapes and structures are no problem for the 3D printer.

Numerous start-ups are already specializing in the new production technology. For example, the company BEGO USA produces ceramic-veneered dental prostheses with a 3D printer. However, printed production parts are also used in aerospace and now even in real estate projects. German companies are among the pioneers: A cross-industry EY study from 2016 showed that 37 percent of all companies surveyed in Germany use 3D printing technologies - significantly more than in China or the USA.

New real estate concepts are needed

These technologies have a huge impact on how production and logistics space is used. On the one hand, the production of the required parts is increasingly moving to their later place of use. If, for example, any spare part can be printed directly on site by an additive production module, classic large-format intermediate storage is no longer necessary. Instead, smaller, but more flexible areas or real estate that allow close integration between production and production logistics are in demand.

Modern mixed-use commercial real estate, especially in business parks, is becoming the focus of attention for 3D printing processes for two reasons. In addition to their urban location, their high proportion of flex spaces is particularly relevant: flexible spaces that can be quickly converted and can be used as production, service or storage space. The fact that printed and on-site produced parts replace their former counterparts is only the first step in structural change.

In the medium term, additive manufacturing techniques and new manufacturing processes will lead to a complete change in the product range. For the companies concerned, this means a fundamental change in production processes - including adjustments to the entire business model. It is therefore important for start-ups as well as for established manufacturing companies to be able to use their own real estate flexibly and adapt it to new requirements.

Susanne Heck
Head of Marketing & Communications
Mergenthalerallee 15-21
65760 Eschborn