3D printing: implications for the re/insurance industry

The 'disruptive technology' could have a significant effect in various areas, including re/insurance.

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has received a significant amount of attention during recent years. Media praises it as being able to change the course of global manufacturing and the supply chain. Today, a number of industries already apply 3D printing for various purposes, from rapid prototyping to the end product manufacturing.

According to Wohlers Associates, the 3D printing market will grow from $2.2 billion today to $10.8 billion by 2021. As a leading reinsurance provider, Swiss Re seeks to understand this exciting and, as labelled, disruptive technology and its possible implications for the re/insurance business.

Growing application in various industries

3D printing's biggest advantage stems from giving the user the possibility to create something unique and tailor made, employing imagination to form new shapes and designs.  The flexibility to produce objects on site, whenever and wherever needed, is also an advantage.

The aerospace and automotive industries have been at the forefront of 3D printing adoption. The medical industry, along with construction, engineering and many more areas, use 3D printing as well. Printing 3D objects at home is also becoming cheaper and easier to use and there are 3D printing shops, cafes or online services around the world.

Further application of this technology is also expected. Research on combining 3D printing technology with highly advanced materials (i.e., 4D printing, which the functionality of materials as the 4th dimension) which can lead to various novel applications, is being done.

Some materials can change over time when exposed to water, temperature changes or air, and can even self-assemble into pre-determined shapes. In the medical industry, for instance, 4D printing might be used for implantable biomaterials/organ printing or for cancer-fighting nanobots. It might also find application in construction, furniture, sportswear, and the automotive, aerospace and marine industries.

Possible implications for re/insurance

So what does it mean for the re/insurance business?

The boundaries between manufacturer and end-user will be blurred by 3D printing. End-users will be able to print partial or even complete products by themselves.

They may even be able to participate in the production process. This can pose a challenging question to product liability cases: who is responsible for the damage?  Application of 3D printing might cause uncertainties in apportioning liabilities, accountability and traceability issues can also arise.

The boundaries between product designer and producer will also blur, which would require the review of the existing scope of professional indemnity covers. Architects, designers and engineers might wonder if their policies apply to computer aided design (CAD) production and whether such designs could be easily manipulated and traceable. If designs become public and shared, intellectual property rights and cyber cover issues may also arise.

3D printers, especially powder based, release small particles into the air. The result may be local workshop pollution. This may raise workers compensation/employer liability issues.

As we observe a rapid application of 3D printing technology in the medical, construction and engineering segments, we also foresee possible implications to medical malpractice insurance and engineering insurance.

Understanding of various types of 3D printers and their working technology is also vital for machinery breakdown insurance as well as business interruption covers: on one hand, the application of 3D printing might reduce the indemnity period, as necessary parts may be just printed on site. On the other, it is important to understand how costly replacing these machines might be in the event of a loss.

Underwriting and assessing such risks

Although it will likely take a while until we see the implications of this new technology in the re/insurance segment, Swiss Re works together with clients to leverage their knowledge about 3D printing and collaborates in developing intelligent and appropriate 3D printing insurance solutions.

We acknowledge 3D printing as new and exciting technology which has significant implications in various industries. It is important to closely monitor developments and our risk experts are ready to work with clients and partners to identify and assess issues that may arise when underwriting 3D printing-related risks.


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