What 3D printing means for Liability underwriters

Swiss Re stages seminar on the technical, commercial, regulatory and legal challenges of underwriting 3D printing technology.

3D printing, or Additive Manufacturing (AM), is a technology that has been around since 1986 when the first patent was issued. But in the last couple of years it suddenly seems to have caught the imagination of the public and press. Stories about 3D-printed Stradivariuses, undetectable plastic guns, and 3D printed food have become an almost daily occurrence.   

But, if we go beyond the headlines, 3D printing is now a significant and growing element of many mainstream businesses. Worldwide revenue from 3D printing is growing enormously - from just over $3 billion in 2013, to just over $4 billion in 2014 and over $5 billion in 2015. It is expected to grow to $7.3 billion this year and to $21.2 billion by 2020.  

So which businesses are using this technology, and what are the benefits, risks and legal considerations? To discuss these issues, Swiss Re invited in some experts in these areas:
•    Professor David Wimpenny, Chief Technologist, Manufacturing Technology Centre
•    Ingrid Hobbs, Partner, Mayer Brown
•    Jonathan Rowley, Design Director, Digits2Widgets

Over 50 participants from the Lloyd's and London insurance company markets heard that:

Demonstrable value but more work to achieve potential in industrial 3D printing
3D printing offers many benefits; the manufacturing of a product can be close to the location of its use; products can be designed to the customer's bespoke requirements; components can be produced that are simply not possible with traditional manufacturing methods; and it uses raw materials highly efficiently with minimal waste.   

One of the big industries currently using 3D printing is aerospace, where the key drivers are weight reduction, reduced lead-time, lower part count, and higher part performance. Improvements achieved through 3D printing have made planes lighter and more fuel-efficient. Other industries using the technology are space, defence, medical, and high performance automotive.

There are challenges too, including poor surface finishing, a shortage of skilled people, and a limited range of proven material and properties. In time, these issues may be addressed by faster machines, and as traditional manufacturing processes and business models embed the technology.

Many legal implications and regulators are already engaging
3D printing generates potential legal uncertainty. Counterfeiting, the cyber threat, accountability, and traceability all need to be considered. The traditional “manufacturer” based chain is altered by 3D printing and the concept of strict liability may be challenged.

Regulators are already looking at this area, particularly in the area of healthcare where potential uses include hip prosthetics, dental products and prosthetic limbs.

Evolution not revolution
3D printing continues to develop as an enabler of existing manufacturing processes. The potential benefits are huge, and interested parties – regulators, manufacturers and insurers – should continue to work together. Close collaboration will help this technology to achieve its full potential. Join Alex Smith, Head Casualty Treaty UW Northwest Europe, on Open Minds to discuss.

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