“Protect yourself against the risks of 3D printing”

18 April 2018

3D printing allows anyone to become an entrepreneur. Put your printed product online and before you know it, you have a flourishing business. Import companies are also becoming producers as they can now print products for themselves. However, what if your product is defective? “Few people realise that they are liable. You can and should protect yourself against these kinds of risks,” said risk and innovation consultant Peter Hartman from Riskfit innovation.

“It can even happen on your street. A girl prints a new power socket for her neighbour. You could say she was doing a kind turn for a friend. It’s a small job using a 3D printer with software that you can often download from the internet for free. However, imagine that the plastic used is not sufficiently heat-resistant for a power socket and then causes a great amount of damage due to a short circuit. Who should pay in this case?

Or take the example of a man with a 3D printed prosthesis, that breaks due to a defect. The man falls down the stairs and ends up in hospital. Who is liable? The small company that printed the prosthesis? The designers of the software that formed the basis for the print? What if that software was open source and was created by a loose group of voluntary doctors and technicians?

Innovation and technology

The technological development around 3D printing is moving so quickly that legal rules and insurance products have failed to respond so far to everything. It is a world of innovation and technology in which changes occur rapidly, sometimes with spectacular results. The Dutch company Ortega Submersibles has conjured up a huge submarine from a 3D printer. Cars have already been produced using a 3D printer. However, probably the greatest revolution is unfolding in small companies with a 3D printer in a bedroom or garage in a residential home. These are entrepreneurs with a passion for technology. They see new opportunities but sometimes their enthusiasm leads them to forget that there can also be a downside.

Risks associated with 3D printing

What can go wrong with a product created using 3D printing?

  • Firstly, there may be an error in the design software. The designer is responsible for this, but it is not clear who that is for a lot of free software on the internet. Errors in the software can lead to unsound products.
  • Substances that are used for printing the product. Polluting or even toxic particles and vapours can be released during the printing process. It is also possible that the raw materials are not of a sufficiently high quality and cause the product to be faulty.
  • A defect in the 3D printer itself, which means that a good design ends up being incorrectly printed.
  • A human error during printing. For instance, incorrect settings which mean that the product ends up with defects.

The question is always who is liable if it goes wrong?

Quality and safety guarantee

Can you protect yourself against these risks if you are now working for a company or if you are a hobbyist who sells 3D prints? You work electronically and you work with designs that sometimes have an uncertain origin, but which you as a 3D printing company are liable for. “Current and new producers that work with 3D printing often do not sufficiently realise what is needed to guarantee quality and safety. That is also our experience.” said Gerrit Vink, whose portfolio includes liability risks at Riskonet. “Make sure you know what can go wrong and what might be the financial consequences of accidents. On the basis of this, determine whether the risk is acceptable or whether extra preventative measures are required.”

“The technological development around 3D printing is moving so quickly that legal rules and insurance products have failed to respond so far to everything.”

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Insurance against risks

The insurance world already offers a number of solutions. At least three categories are needed to insure against 3D printing risks:

  1. A 3D producer is liable for damage to third parties caused by a faulty product. This category comprises general liability, product liability and employer liability. Business and personal injury and defence costs are included in this coverage.
  2. Product recall. Even the best products sometimes need to be recalled because of a defect. For this reason, you should know who you have supplied the 3D products to. It should also be clear which raw materials are used in which 3D prints. This category provides for loss and costs connected with recalling a defective product from the market.
  3. Design liability. This category covers damage to third parties as a result of an error in the electronic 3D design. It is not always possible to recover this loss from an external designer. This is often because a name is missing from the software that was downloaded from the internet.

Furthermore, the issue of intellectual property plays a role in 3D printing. How do you protect yourself against hackers who are targeting your digital design? There are numerous pirate versions of 3D designs currently circulating on the internet. You should also make sure that the design you use does not breach an existing patent. It’s great to have a passion for 3D printing, but you need more than this. You should also pay attention to the legal and insurance sides of things.”

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