Apr 18, 2017 | By Tess

British law firm DMH Stallard recently conducted a research study to see what companies thought of the potentials and risks of using 3D printing technologies for prototyping and manufacturing. And while the research showed that most companies were excited about additive manufacturing, it also suggested that most companies are perhaps not worried enough about the risks that the technology could pose to their intellectual property.

For its research, DMH Stallard approached a variety of companies that are already or starting to use 3D printing for the production of prototypes and final parts, as well as companies that are working on the development of 3D printing software, especially software that is geared towards design protection. The study was initiated to see how companies were reacting to the potential risks of 3D printing tech, namely, how it could make counterfeiting much easier.

Before we get into that, let’s first look at the main reasons that companies said they were excited about 3D printing technologies: The first main point was supply chain disruption, which essentially means that 3D printing will enable companies to have greater control over their supply chains with the ability to produce their own parts. The second reason was mass customization, or the ability to more easily produce customized parts or goods without the need for expensive tools and processes. The third was reverse engineering, which means that companies can create models based on existing products. And the final main reason was design possibility, meaning that 3D design and printing have opened the doors for complex manufacturing.

Despite these exciting factors, DMH Stallard seems wary that the companies they questioned were perhaps not concerned enough about the intellectual property risks of 3D printing.

Robert Ganpatsingh, partner at DMH Stallard

“Of the companies we spoke to, who all operated in a business-to-business environment, the majority believed that their IP would be safe if sensible precautions were taken to protect it," explained Robert Ganpatsingh, a partner at DMH Stallard. "While this attitude may not cost them today, as 3D printing improves, so does the ability of counterfeiters to rip off IP which is hugely valuable to organizations. Companies need to take steps now to ensure that they are protected in the future as the technology develops.“

To help companies better equip themselves for safely using 3D printing tech, DMH Stallard has outlined ten tips:

1. Evaluate and consider the advantages that 3D printing could offer the business through increased flexibility and shorter production times.

2. Secure 3D models and data internally and externally—do not send out 3D design files, but share models using web based geometrical model viewers.

3. Invest in in-house 3D printing technology for prototype manufacturing.

4. Keep up to date with technology advancements and changes, ensure that existing development and protection strategies are not out-of-date or overtaken by new technologies.

5. Establish as many barriers and protections as possible to prevent your designs from being stolen or copied. These include design rights, patents, and trade marks.

6. Take care to separate and identify parts or products that may require individual or additional protections.

7. If clients or suppliers need access to 3D models, share them through online platforms where distribution is controlled. Additionally, it is suggested to establish a strict contract with any 3D printing services used for added protection.

8. For the manufacturing of production parts, keep close tabs on internal processes as well as any work done with sub-contractors.

9. For the manufacturing of production parts, protect the manufacturing process as well as the 3D designs.

10. Consider putting protections in place for materials you are using to manufacture parts, such as IP protections or through a contract with a materials supplier.

“One of the most attractive things about 3D printing is that manufacturing businesses need only move data to the printer to enable local manufacturing,” commented Ganpatsingh. “But this means whoever has that data has the keys to the castle. The UK develops innovative products that are the result of huge investments in research and development. Organizations need to protect their investment by making it as difficult as possible for counterfeiters to copy their products.“

The entire DMH Stallard report can be found here.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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