3D printing | Best of 2015 Risk Insights | Risks Revealed

3D printing: Who is responsible?

August 25, 2014
So, when the inevitable defective product gets spit out of a 3-D printer, one has to wonder – who will be liable for that? Will the manufacturer be responsible, or the printer seller, or the materials dealer, or the machinist?

Vice President, Head of Manufacturing

Cindy Slubowski is the Head of the Manufacturing and Wholesale Trade Distribution business... About this expert

3D green head

In July, Amazon announced the launch of an online store for 3-D printed items to allow consumers to customize and personalize over 200 items like dolls, jewelry, and cookie cutters, to name a few.

“The introduction of our 3-D printed products store suggests the beginnings of a shift in online retail that manufacturing can be more nimble to provide an immersive customer experience. Sellers, in alignment with designers and manufacturers, can offer more dynamic inventory for customer to personalize and truly make their own,” said Amazon’s Petra Schindler-Carter in a statement.

A shift indeed, has taken place. Not only is it allowing consumers to personalize products, it’s allowing them to create and sell them. Today, it has become possible for anyone to buy and use 3-D printing to create food, shoes, organs, almost anything. That, along with the added incentive to bring products to market in a fraction of the time, has become extremely attractive to the manufacturing industry.

One problem for insurers, though, becomes the number of people involved in the process.

“Legally, anyone can buy a 3-D printer. Once you have a printer, you need a “recipe” to make a certain product. Then you need to buy materials to make the product, and have a machinist man the machine,” says Peter Dion, Line of Business Director – Product Liability for Zurich. “So, there will be a lot of unregulated manufacturing going on. People will be making things out of their basements.”

So, when the inevitable defective product gets spit out of a 3-D printer, one has to wonder – who will be liable for that? Will the manufacturer be responsible, or the printer seller, or the materials dealer, or the machinist?

“Think about it like this,” says Dion. “When you buy a cake, and there is a foreign object in it, you go back to the baker. If the baker can prove that the ingredients were contaminated when shipped to him or her, the baker may be off the hook. But if not, the responsibility lies with the baker. This will likely be the same process that the insurance industry will undertake with 3-D printing coverage and claims. But, we are aware of no claims having been reported yet, so we don’t know exactly what will happen. We have no precedent.”

How do you think the insurance industry should handle this?



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