The advent of desktop and other smaller scale 3D printers has seen a growing global market. The market, which consists of 3D printers, 3D printing materials, 3D printing services and 3D printing software, reached US$4.98 billion in 2015. That market is expected to balloon to US$30.19 billion by 2022.
The technology is disruptive. It allows product development and manufacturing on a very small scale and in doing so enables a market without the expertise or checks and balances that operate in established consumer product manufacturing.
3D-printed product safety
3D printing allows individuals to manufacture their own products, by using software to replicate an existing product or design a new one. Consumers are purchasing 3D printers for home use, and local commercial print services are also available across Australia. Schools are using 3D printers to train junior designers, manufacturers and entrepreneurs.
As outlined in my White Paper: 3D Printing and Consumer Product Safety, many factors influence the safety of products made using 3D printing. In the hands of an untrained consumer who make products (‘prosumer’) products may be unfit for purpose (for example, using the wrong raw material for food contact products or using incorrect printing infill settings). Prosumers may also unwittingly design and supply new products that create new hazards.
The current review of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) must consider the need for changes to accommodate the 3D-printed product market.
3D print designs
An associated (online) market for 3D printing designs has also developed. Consumers and businesses can download a product design specification that allows them to then make the product on their own 3D printer or have it printed at a commercial 3D printing facility. However, consumers (or businesses) obtaining 3D printing designs online may not be able to assess the safety of the intended end-product.
The supply of product designs (by sale or free download) does not appear to be covered under existing ACL product safety provisions. While manufacturers and other suppliers are obliged/required under the ACL to provide safe and/or compliant products, at present there are no provisions that address the possibility that a 3D print designer can supply (intentionally or otherwise) designs for consumer products that are unsafe.
Applying the ACL’s misleading and deceptive provisions, as discussed in the blog article Product safety game changer, may not apply to supply of product designs.
Design is widely accepted as being the primary determinant of a product’s safety. Provisions in the ACL (including potentially a general safety provision) dealing with supplying product designs would enable remedial action where necessary. It would also help motivate and educate designers on factoring safety into their designs.
Product bans – these currently cover around 20 product types and serve to protect consumers from known hazards by regulating products sold. If a 3D print design was available for a product that was non-compliant with a ban, the ACL does not currently appear to allow government intervention.
Mandatory standards – these currently cover around 40 product types and also serve to protect consumers from known hazards by imposing standards on products sold.
Mandatory standards are defined as meaning a standard for the goods ‘or anything related to the goods’. This may allow mandatory standards to include designs for the products it covers, but this is so far untested.
Alternatively, it may be simpler to insert a general provision that says any designs sold/supplied for products that are subject to a mandatory standard must be such that they provide for compliant end-products.
(The current suite of mandatory standards do not include reference to product designs and this should be factored into any standards reviews, or preferably inserted proactively).
Recalls – The definition of consumer goods for recall purposes does not appear to include product designs. The recall provisions in the ACL that require businesses to notify the ACCC when conducting a recall, and allow the government to order compulsory recall should be revised to include the recall of unsafe product designs.
The provisions relating to liability for defective goods do not appear to cover designs for defective goods. The provisions should be reviewed to address the case where an unsafe design has led to injury. This situation has been discussed in the 2016 book Socio-legal Aspects of the 3D Printing Revolution, by Dr Angela Daly of Queensland University of Technology.
Beyond the sale of 3D print designs, Dr Daly’s book explains the issues involved with applying product liability provisions in the 3D printer making world. These include: liability of prosumers, 3D printer manufacturers, 3D print designers and design repository websites; issues around supply in trade or commerce and supply of designs free of charge; negligence issues; liability insurance and compensation affordability. The book outlines product liability application to 3D printing in the USA, Europe, New Zealand and Australia. See The Maze article Legal aspects of 3D printing.
The ACL review should consider adding product designs to the product safety provisions for mandatory standards and bans; mandatory reporting; and recalls.
Existing mandatory standards should be reviewed for the need to include product designs.
Product liability provisions should be reviewed to accommodate the new ways products come to market via 3D printing.
* This blog article is drawn from my submission to the Australian Consumer Law review (see also An Australian general safety provision?)
There’s lots of further reading about 3D printing and product safety on this website: Type ‘3D printing’ into the Search field, above.