"3D printing will revolutionize everything"

Former US Vice President Al Gore believes 3D printing to be of similar importance as Henry Ford's invention of the assembly line.

Michael Bruch, Head of Emerging Trends, and Juergen Weichert, Head of Global Product Development Liability, have dealt with this new method of production. Their work was recently published as part of the 3D printing manual by C.H.BECK-Verlag (ISBN 978-3-406-70751-3; EUR 179). Read here why both AGCS experts decided to try their hands at writing.

Which new findings were you able to unearth in the manual?
Jürgen: Along with 3D printing - as a new method of production - the circle of contributors also changes. New independent players come into play, with their own relevant liabilities. Product designers, Internet sales platforms and 3D printing presses in particular should be mentioned here.

Then let's start off with the product designers. What do they have to keep in mind?
Jürgen: The 3D design is the blueprint for the future product. It contains all the information. If the design itself can already be considered a product, for example in accordance with the German Product Safety Act, then the designer would be liable. This can lead to a recall of unsafe products that could potentially endanger the life and health of people, for example children's toys.

Which liability risks will internet platforms face?
Jürgen: A 3D model is generally put up for sale on a platform with an economic goal in mind. The question thus also arises as to whether the operators of the platform are required to warn about unsafe products which were produced by the uploaded 3D models. After all, usually the operators alone know the names and addresses of their user community.

You also discuss the possible risks for software manufacturers. What needs to be considered here?
Jürgen: The question here is whether the software manufacturers are properly insured. The software itself can also be considered a product. Software manufacturers should check that they are adequately covered for product liability. In Switzerland, for example, the software for 3D printers that are used to make medicinal products are considered medicinal products themselves.

What else needs to be taken into account for the risk assessment of 3D printing?
Jürgen: Basically 3D printing is just a different method of production. Due to its varied possibilities of product creation, for example for groceries, children's toys, medicinal products, parts for the automobile or aerospace industry, this production method is subject to the relevant standards and laws and, thus, to the relevant liability.

How would you assess the growth opportunities for this new method of production?
Michael: The market for 3D printing (machines and services) is estimated at USD 8.8 billion for 2017. That is a 70% increase. It is believed that 3D printing has a worldwide potential of US $ 640 billion, which would make up 5% of the world market of all manufacturers. 3D printing allows for a new concept of the products. Thanks to the additive processes, less material is needed and the products can be designed differently. For example, bionic structures are now possible. There is also a discussion as to whether 3D printing makes it profitable to relocate large parts of mass production from low-income countries back home and thus closer to the end consumer. This would cut back the wage and logistical expenses. Dental prosthesis used to be manufactured in low-income countries. Nowadays, lots of different types of dentures can be individually made with a printer. Only the future will tell when, if or rather for which mass products 3D printing will be worthwhile. However, the fact that 3D printing will revolutionize everything, is already apparent today.

What business opportunities does AGCS gain from it?
Michael: For AGCS, this entails new business opportunities as the customers are accompanied through the changes to the production processes. In the area of claims, there is also the possibility of reducing business interruptions during production of spare parts by using 3D printers and thus enabling the customer to be operational again faster.

How did the collaboration with publisher Dr. Andreas Leupold, a lawyer, come about?
Michael: Dr. Leupold was looking for insurers that were interested in the topic of 3D printing and were able to provide expertise on risk management. He was at the right address here. Other insurers did not want to or could not position themselves with regard to this innovative technology.

How do you fit your work as an "author" around your actual job?
Jürgen: For me, it means getting up at 5 a.m. during the writing phase to work on our part before my actual work. At your actual job, there is no opportunity to write as you have to dedicate your time and concentration to the project itself.

3D printing is already being used in the manufacturing of aircrafts, prostheses and designer pieces. What is next?

Michael: Designed groceries, such as pasta, spare parts for cars and in general, the on-site production of medicines in pharmacies or hospitals, components for house construction - there seems to be no limit. The printing of entire cars, buildings and planes is planned. In medicine they are doing research on producing tissues for functional organs to replace transplants. Already research is being done on 4D printing for which the raw material is printed with the conventional 3D method. By exposing the material to, say, heat, light or water, it then changes size or properties by itself.

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