3-D printing has been hailed as one of the technological innovations of the century. You can develop prototypes quickly and easily without expensive manufacturing. You may soon be able to use them to print medicine or organs in remote corners of the world. In the rush to embrace the good from this kind of printing it’s possible that insurers haven’t realized the risks associated with 3-D printing.
Even at the moment when 3-D printing is limited to plastic and metal objects the risks are substantial. For example, you can already print a hearing aid and that means more complex devices are not far away from being realized through 3-D printing.
The most famous use of a 3-D printer to date was to print a gun. That’s right, a working firearm that required a single steel pin (in addition to the printed mold) to work. There’s a substantial risk that unrestrained 3-D printing may enable employees to introduce significant risks to themselves and others in the workplace and the wider world. The pattern for the gun has been widely disseminated online.
Then there are the potential risks associated with the heat of 3-D printing. It’s a much warmer kind of printing than paper printing and that increases the fire risks within 3-D printing environments.
Then there are the intellectual property implications as 3-D printing becomes more sophisticated it’s going to become very easy to print your own iPhone or possibly even your own Porsche. That’s going to represent a huge problem for those manufacturers that rely on exclusivity to drive their sales and the arena of IP protection is likely to become extremely combative with the appropriate increases in legal fees.
Finally, there’s an increased risk of catastrophic economic damages to firms that use 3-D printing if their designs are duplicated or stolen via data hacking or loss.
Insurers in the UK need to draw attention to the increased risk profile of 3-D printing in a work environment and ensure that their insured parties understand these risks and are paying the appropriate premiums to cover those risks.
It’s unlikely that a major catastrophe will happen immediately; the technology’s still too new and remains applied to specialist applications today but it’s also not that far away either. The evolution of technology suggests that insurers can’t afford to wait before reacting to 3-D printing or someone could get burned.