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3D printing blurs the boundaries

The possibilities are endless - Tuesday, Mar 18, 2014

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3D printing promises to take the term “Selfie” to a whole new level this year with even supermarkets offering to create a ‘mini-me’ for just £40.

3D Selfies

As the technology becomes more accessible so does mass personalisation: Mobile phone manufacturer Nokia has released 3D printing templates that enable owners of the Lumia 820 to customise their phone’s back shell; Nike are using 3D printing technology to produce prototype designs of sports shoes and Tesco are exploring opportunities for printing replacements for broken items and spare parts.

Assessing risks

The possibilities of 3D printing are endless and as a result the roles of manufacturer, designer, retailer and customer have to be re-defined. At the same time insurers are working through the changing risks associated with this technology and top of their list is product liability cover.

It is product liability – when does it start and when does it end (if it ever does) – that is causing trouble. With a 3D printer, almost anyone can become a manufacturer overnight. This has created a whole new level of complication when it comes to tracing the liability of a product fault. It could be the result of a design error; a problem with the 3D modelling software; the printer itself; unsuitable materials being used; operator error ... the possibilities seem endless.

The issue of pirated products is another grey area in terms of liability. Whilst copyright infringement principles apply to 3D printing just as they apply elsewhere, there is still a lack of robust regulation and the ability to monitor what people create, which makes it increasingly difficult to prevent individuals from counterfeiting items.

Brave new world

As with most new technology, the risks can sometimes appear to outweigh the benefits at first, but it is only a matter of time before the technology is either refined and/or the legislation is brought up to date.

If you are already thinking about using 3D printing in your business give us a call now. We can help you to identify the risks of using 3D printing and to put in place management, mitigation and contingency plans.

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