Many people are very afraid of sharks. These creatures are seen ruthless assassins prowling the deep for a chunk of human flesh. Thousands of hours of footage have been shot of sharks being fed chunks of meat. Discovery Channel feeds us hundreds of hours of television of sharks being scary. Their bloodthirstiness and savage ferocity is celebrated and we are spoon fed these ideas and images continually.
Yet, many shark species are endangered and we are killing tens of thousands of sharks each year for shark fin soup. So how many humans have the sharks killed in revenge? Being the horrendous killing machines that they are? 569. Yes, there have only been 569 confirmed deaths due to shark attacks. Ever. Not this year, not the last ten years, but ever. For every human killed by the sharks we kill 25 million sharks. I’m willing to bet that there have been more shark attacks in movies than there have been in real life. We cower in fear of an animal that by and large ignores us. Meanwhile, you are more likely to die from a vending machine toppling over and crushing you than get attacked by a shark. But, a shark is a sleek creature with a lot of teeth and this makes for good TV.
Because the visuals are good the fear mongering continues unabated. The demonisation of sharks started with Jaws and this lead to a generation of people fearing sharks and thinking of them as merciless man-eaters. If the media get hold of a good story with some fun visuals then it will only be a matter of time before a scary story embeds itself into everyone’s minds. Remember the 3D printed gun thing? That worked more or less the same way. Everybody likes 3D printing we’re the popular kids in class. But, what if we got careless and in one fell swoop plummeted into being the ignored nerds we once were?
What if we killed someone? 3D printing is new, it’s interesting and the media like to report about it. What if somewhere, somehow, a person was killed because of a 3D printer or 3D printed thing? The news value of this could cement our technology as being considered a dangerous one. Just one single graphic event could harm us all and deter further adoption of the technology. I feel that across the industry there is too little regard for safety and the ensuing legal risk. I feel that there is not enough research being conducted specifically into material safety. I think that there are materials out there that have associated health risks. I also think that we should be cognisant of the fact that if you sell someone a product and it fails then there could be liability issues.
Because of a huge variance in machine settings products could work coming off one machine and not work when they are made on an identical machine with different settings. Similarly environmental conditions such as ambient temperature and humidity could make a 3D printed product fail in a non-predetermined way. Opening a file in a particular CAD package may change it and slight design tweaks or remeshing could turn a functional thing into a non-functional one. Depending on the process different materials, colours and additives can significantly alter 3D prints. We do not have sufficient process control to ensure that everything that is 3D printed comes out as intended.
Your 3D prints are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. We’re two sigma not six. Depending on where you are in the world a service bureau, designer and/or point of sale may be liable for a defective product. Product liability is not something many of us have looked into. To say nothing of personal injury or wrongful death. Patent infringement is something we know quite a bit about by now, but what about the 3D printed products we make and sell, what if they infringe on someone else’s patents? Our move from prototyping to manufacturing has in my opinion not come coupled with us implementing proper legal safeguards for ourselves, our customers and their end customers.
A few things that keep me up at night:
- Several 3D printing materials sold to consumers have only been certified for industrial use.
- 3D printed products are being sold to consumers with materials that have not been certified for their uses.
- People are selling jewellery made from materials that are not certified to be worn on the body.
- Designers and engineers put designs online sell them, sell products made from them or share these files without adequate legal protection.
- Fumes from ABS have been found to be toxic and lead to ill health effects but manufacturers and materials suppliers often do not warn users of these possible effects.
- Everyone assumes that PLA is safe but there has been very little research conducted on the effects of it when printing.
- The only safe way to use a 3D printer in a home is if it is under a fume hood. We are not doing enough as an industry to make this clear.
- Additives such as colourants may have harmful health effects but are often not tested.
- Resins contain photoinitiators, in small quantities, and these have been found to be harmful to health.
- Some resins contain possible carcinogens.
- Resins are a skin irritant and may cause skin sensitization issues.
- Sintering materials consist of plastic or metal particles that are 40-60 micron in size. These could pass into the brain, bloodstream or lungs while being processed. Yet in most service bureaus people walk around and even depowder print jobs without masks.
- Many 3D printing materials have proprietary formulations that keep people from knowing what exactly is inside the material and if it is harmful or not.
- Many food receptacles and tools are being 3D printed using materials and processes that are not food safe.
- Depending on where you are (and the transaction), you as a designer, service bureau or machine manufacturer may be liable for things produced by you or on your machines.
- Labeling something as “for decorative use only” is in my opinion not adequate protection against any and all liability. Especially not if there are images of the product in use or text indicating that the product is functional. Also, if that worked as a sufficient legal safeguard everyone would do it. Hey, that firework over there? Decorative. Yeah, this is just a decorative helicopter. Just you know, put it on the front lawn or something. Oh yeah, that’s just purely decorative chair. Sit on it at your own risk.
- With millions of products entering the consumer space it is only a question of time before use or misuse of the products we make lead to a US liability lawsuit.
Call a lawyer. Really, call a lawyer. Have them go through your contracts and terms of service. Many were made for a prototype age and are now being used for consumer products. Many new companies coming into the space are growing so quickly that they don’t get around doing details well, such as warnings, warrantees or terms. Look at them now. Because these are details that could give your company a headshot. Check your materials suppliers and MSDS’s because I’ve personally found lots of fishy stuff there. Protect yourself, protect your employees and protect your customers.
I also believe that we need to as an industry communicate the fact that we cannot guarantee that a 3D printed thing is functional. For a 3D printed thing to exist there needs to be a file, material, settings and a machine. If we optimise a particular process for a particular file or family of files we can guarantee certain tolerances and can vouchsafe for a particular functionality. But, if this optimisation process does not occur we can in no way be sure that the object will be functional. There is simply too much variability that may occur in either file, material, settings or during the print job itself. So yes, we can do manufacturing but only if we optimise and have in some way certified our process for this application and part or family of parts.
If you just download a file from somewhere (or make it yourself or buy it) and print it out on any machine, we cannot in any way guarantee that this object will be functional. Even if a file would include the settings then ambient temperature, how long the raw 3D printing material has been exposed to the air and other variables will mean that we cannot guarantee that the object will be functional. I think it is important for us to make this clear. If we do not do this we may find ourselves portrayed not as loving playful dolphins inventing the future but rather as evil sharks ruthlessly preying on the innocent.