At the 2017 America’s Claims Event a session discussed liability exposures from 3D printing. The speaker was Christopher Iliff, Senior Vice President with Swiss Re.
3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. It is different from other manufacturing processes in that it is additive vs subtractive. In other words, something is created by 3D printing by layers building upon layers. In traditional manufacturing things are typically created by starting with something large then reducing the size to create the product (punch press, molds, etc).
The items that can be 3D printed are rapidly increasing. These include:
- Entire buildings or building materials
- Medical devices/implants
- Artificial body parts (bones, ears, etc)
- Machine parts
- Component parts for automotive and aerospace industry
- Anything made with plastics, resin, metal powder, glass powder, ceramics, even food and drugs.
Given that these products are new, we really don’t have experience with how they will perform over time and what litigation will emerge around them. For example:
- What happens to 3D items over time?
- Will their integrity become compromised?
- Is there latent risk from 3D printed products (i.e. 3D printed medical implant causes cancer many years into the future)?
- Could there be risks to the people manufacturing 3D printed products that do not emerge for many years (similar to the popcorn lung from butter flavoring).
The question around product liability for 3D printing is who could be found liable? Is it:
- The company/individual that came up with the design for the product.
- The company/individual that actually printed the product.
- The manufacturer of the material used in the 3D printing.
- The company that made the 3D printer.
- The company/individual that used the 3D printed part that became defective.
- The company that developed the software to make all this happen.
You could make a products liability argument against all of these entities.
There could also be intellectual property claims arising from 3D printing.
- Who owns what?
- What is copyrightable?
- What is infringement?
- What is fair use?
- Who is liable for modifications?
If you copy the design of something using a 3D printer is that a violation of existing intellectual property laws? We will likely need to develop new intellectual property frameworks to deal with this new technology and the potential claims that arise from it.
This is such new technology which is creating new emerging risks. The insurance industry needs to respond to these risks by designing liability policies around all these issues.