Following the concept of the master thesis of Sharieffa Jbiri “DIY: print yourself liable, the meaning of 3D printing for the current product liability law”, I’ve written a response. See below:
The end-user as a sheep. Mass produced products.
First of all the following: apparently the law in General assumes that the consumer is a stupid sheep that needs to be protected against the consequences of faulty products. Understandable, because most consumers can thus be considered. However, this is particularly the case if such a sheep buys a refrigerator at the Media markt; after a discussion an overheated teenager is put into a fridge to cool off and it’s discovered that a lower temperature of the teenager is actual reached, but that a lack of oxygen has an unwanted effect on life expectancy. And that was not in the manual!
The end-user wanting a specific product.
In this case the consumer is a person that askes an owner of a 3D printer to print an object. But that two persons can be the same as well.
However, in the case of 3D printing it’s a different situation. The consumer does not choose between the possibilities of a regular in series produced product with its certification, but want something realized according his own thoughts and specifications actually. At that time he/she is not a sheep anymore, but a sane person. He knows that what he wants is not a generally available product, but a ‘ special ‘.
Making a clear checklist for the wanted result.
Parts of his thinking-process and decision making include styling, use, price and desired life-time of the object. With those thoughts in mind, he will start looking for a suitable existing 3D model or design one. For an existing model he will ask questions if it is sufficient in the given situation. And if so he will he indicate the preconditions for printing at the designer.
For that situation it seems to me the client/consumer is responsible for any omissions in the design or specifications. In case of calamities one will have to be considered whether there was a proper programme of requirements for example.
When no specifications were provided and it was unclear to the owner of the 3D printer that the design was actually a functional design -and it’s not just a model-then the supplier of the 3D print is little to blame.
I had it myself! Earlier I had printed pots for a laboratory engineer company that needed to be actually temperature resistant. And so they were made; from PETG . Later requested another engineering company a similar series prints. That proved only to have to act as a model! It had better not the other way around!
Cheap 3D printing. No questions asked!
Now I paint consumers of mass produced products as sheep, but in the case of 3d printing is actually exactly different. Those 3D-print owners are the sheep. The owner of a 3D printer is entirely dependent on a series of often hardly linked workflow components and ‘ does the best’.
From the examples from the master thesis of Sharieffa that image actually emerges: 3D printer owners are attic room types just messing around.
It is-I think- even the question whether there is a formal assignment: a lot of stuff will be printed and paid without the appropriate taxes. And then a liability is much trickier to prove or claim.
However, there will also plenty of formal assignments being given. In the thesis it’s already well showed what the main components of the workflow are, for example:
3D design on the internet > > 3D print owner to find >> Let it print
The parties mentioned in the thesis on liability are:
- Supplier of the 3D model
- Supplier of the 3D printer
- Supplier of the print material
- Supplier of the 3D print
I miss an important (and for the 3D print defining factor): the supplier of the slicer. The slicer is the software that makes “slices” of a 3D model and generates an output that is understood by the 3D printer. In general, there are several available slicers for a specific printer. The tuning of the slicer requires experience of the 3D printer owner, but a slicer is currently far from free of imperfections as well.
In between Parties
Another “in-between party” can come into play as well. For example: 3D Hubs collect consumer print jobs and let 3D print owners provide them. In a formal approach: the first contact person when having troubles / calamities is 3D Hubs.
So when a defective 3D product is causing injuries or financial setbacks, the following parties are involved:
- The consumer/client and the provided model and the specifications wanted
- The supplier of the 3D model for the conditions for the creation of the 3D model
- The supplier of the 3D printer for the conditions and constraints of the use of the printer
- The supplier of the print material for the specifications of the material itself and the circumstances where it should be applied
- The middleman for a print job, such as 3D Hubs, for a professional translation of the consumer print wish
- The supplier of the 3D print itself for knowledge if above conditions can be applied reliably to the desired product.
For the current situation, it seems to me that it is almost impossible to get one of the parties actually having liable with some success.
Inform the Customer!
For me, it seems that parties for the immediate future have to be at least clear about an unclear situation. So the designer of a CAD file will have to make it clear that the draft is “as is” and no liability can be accepted. Similarly for the other parties: one is after all completely dependent of other parties of the process, and has in the everyday situation no opportunity to verify if limitations affect the design.
In that sense, I can imagine that for the future the following proposals can be handy:
That existing 3D models are certified and may be printed only by a series of certified companies. So the whole set of the model, print material, printer, intermediary and must be certified, so that print company specifications and standards. The same applies to commissioned special design objects.
Comparing the 3D printing process to the architectural process.
Then we end as it is now already, for example, as with the construction industry. It is simple to replace the names of the parties’ names of parties from the 3D printing process:
A consumer let’s design his new house by an architect with exactly determined requirements. The architect draws and designs that house and captures the building legally in a document. The contractor in turn uses certified specialized subcontractors, who will use tested and certified building materials. With defects it can be fairly reliable determined which party is liable.
It will be clear that this is not cheap for 3D pints. But reliability (and liability) has its price.
Liability of Attic Room architecture.
As regards the liability of a lack of a print from the attic room 3D print circuit, I can imagine that the current rules apply already. Is Uncle Joe-without training-liable for the collapse of the barn he built and signed, claiming to be an architect?
Liability of Attic Room 3D printing
When Uncle Joe prints a part for a household-stair of his neighbour, and it breaks and his nice neighbour breaks his leg and isn’t able to work, who pays the damage?
For specific products-such as the example of a part of a household-stair- it’s needed all steps of the workflow are certified. When disaster happens, it’s clear where to find the cruel pit, the liability.
Costs and Liability
Certified produced will cost more than free range printed ones. But at the end certified products will be cheaper, considering possible legal claims and insurances.
But that takes more work from the making industry, to get the licenses fitting to each other.
Follow the instructions!
If you want to print a part that’s not available anymore, you simply have to follow the manufacturer’s instructions in the future and order it at your certified 3D printer store with the touch of a button without worrying about it.
For liability for flaws in the future should -in my eyes-one only use certified companies for a specific 3D print. And in the case of a specific design, only skilled advisers should be involved.
And eventually that 3D print advisers should be certified as well.
If consumers still want messing around with dark unskilled 3D printer users from the deep-web, well, they deserve what they get. Troubles and Injuries ;-)