Jun 29, 2016 | By Kira

As 3D printing technology infiltrates into more and more industries, from consumer to automotive to medical, so too will the associated risks. And as risk is the insurance industry’s primary business, it is imperative that insurance companies around the world become familiar with 3D printing technologies and applications to better protect their clients.

Swiss Re Group, a leading wholesale provider of reinsurance and insurance, has recognized this, and is working with its clients to leverage their knowledge about 3D printing, and, when the need arises, to develop intelligent and appropriate 3D printing insurance solutions.

First and foremost, Swiss Re acknowledges that additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping are truly working their way into every major industry in every part of the world. The main question they consider is therefore which industries will be most affected by 3D printing technology, and how.

In the aerospace/automotive sector, for example, 3D printing (3DP) is reducing costs by allowing for new and experimental prototypes to be built faster, and for complex end-use parts to be made from cheaper, lighter weight materials. Other primary sectors where 3D printing is making a significant impact are construction and engineering, the food and drug industries, medical devices, and home-use applications.

On the geographical side, North America remains the biggest market with 3D printing, with Europe coming in second. Meanwhile, the Japan, China and South Korea currently account for 21% of the 3D printing market, and the Asia Pacific region on a whole is expected to soon dominant the global scene, with a US$20 billion 3D printing industry forecasted by 2020.

“The industry consensus is that 3DP has evolved beyond the hype, prototype and novelty stage and must be recognized as a mainstream technology,” says Swiss Re.  And yet, they continue: “there is no specific federal framework that would apply specifically to 3DP. Specialized insurance forms or wordings are not present (yet) and this exposure remains in the realm of product liability. The key underwriting message is understand and underwrite, not ignore.”

So what are the key 3D printing-related risks that underwriters, risk professionals, and indeed, anyone using or investing 3D printing should be aware of?

According to Swiss Re, they fall into a few categories: risks at the product design stage, risks at the construction/production stage, new product distribution channels; product performance, and finally, disposal and recycle.

At the product design stage, the primary risk is that of IP rights infringements and professional indemnity exposures. Moving into production, counterfeit products will also be much easier to 3D print, and as we have seen, even restricted or illegal items, such as 3D printed guns and 3D printed keys, are already all-too-easy to design and to make.

Finally, once the 3D printed object has been designed and produced, its usage could also lead to significant risks—though the question for risk professionals to address is who should be liable in the case of misuse or malfunction:

"From a re/insurance perspective, perhaps the biggest uncertainty is the long-term durability of the product,” says Swiss Re. “We know quite well what to expect in terms of performance for products manufactured by traditional methods. Products made with 3D printers are certainly subject to various types of testing, but only time will tell how well they will perform in real life applications. This is especially important for products used in critical safety applications. 3DP might also challenge the lines between product and service; if different parties are involved in the supply chain, the liability landscapes may shift.”

For example, they provide the scenario of a 3D printed plastic lampshade that is made at home with a different type of plastic than at the manufacturer. The plastic could react differently to the heat of the bulb, melt, or even cause a fire. “3DP processes blur the lines between design and production, modification and post processing. Attribution of liabilities might not be the same as with traditional manufacturing processes.”

These are just a few of the risks. Others include potential health hazards, as 3D printers are known to emit tiny particles into the air; and environmental concerns, as some materials may be toxic or non-biodegradable.

At the end of the day, Swiss Re is encouraging its risk professional experts, as well as other insurance companies, to recognize the need for a strong understanding of 3D printing technologies, and to develop a consistent collaboration between underwriting, risk engineering services, and claims, to best protect clients’ needs and interests.

“Navigating the new risk landscape that 3DP presents to re/insurers will be a challenge, but it is one that the industry has consistently done throughout history. As with any innovation involving products, processes or operations, it is the well-informed and prepared re/insurer that will not only successfully manage this new technology, but also benefit from the opportunities that are presented.”

On the filp side of risk, 3D printing is being recognized by the insurance industry as both a money-saving solution, and covered healthcare expense. Last month, we also covered Scott Klososky on what risk professionals need to know about 3D printing.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer Company

 

 

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