3D Printer At Work

Group 75

Group 75

Additive manufacturing (AM) is a rapidly growing area with an 4x increase in revenue between 2010 and 2015. It has sparked massive interest and a large following, however it is not without fault and there have been calls to regulate its development and the parts it produces. The common argument for regulation of AM is the possibility to produce weaponry at home, however this subject has been covered on multiple occasions, so other issues will be covered. Regulation covers a broad range of possibilities ranging from updating IP laws to limitation or altogether termination of the advancement of AM.

Against Regulation: Creativity, accessibility and regulation enforcement

One of the key aspects of AM is the creative freedom that it allows. The accessibility, in particular the increasing affordability of the printers themselves due to its expanding global industry, leads to growing public interest in AM and wider aspects of engineering. In addition, software and hardware use is intuitive, meaning that anyone, from students to professionals, can pick it up – possibly leading to general increase of the skill level of the workforce.3D Printer At Work

Regulation poses a threat to this accessibility and hinders the possibilities for innovation. Imposing the presence of regulatory bodies to approve printers, CAD files and related items will incur administration costs and increase the time to market for new products, while digital copyright could inadvertently give powerful companies the legal power “to claw useful objects out of the public domain”. Additionally, it makes it harder to import and export the technology; in parts of the world with limited accessibility to medical equipment, for example, AM provides a way for the people to access the care they need. In the Gaza strip the current cost of printing a stethoscope is only 30 cents, compared to a month of a doctor’s salary to purchase outright. Regulation could inhibit such breakthroughs in the poorer parts of the world, disallowing the full ethical benefit that this technology can bring.

Alongside the disadvantages of regulation, the challenge of enforcing it creates further problems. The digital nature of AM makes it incredibly difficult to stop the sharing of copyrighted files online, seen already with music, movies and software. Undoubtedly, heavy regulation would seem to be impossible if file sharing websites like Napster and Piratebay are still prevalent after years of legal adjustments and internet security changes attempting to prohibit their usage. This difficulty of enforcement has led to deterrent policies; in cases where infringement is caught, current copyright laws can lead to excessively harsh penalties to individuals, which are grossly excessive when compared with actual damages” even for defendants who present plausible fair use defenses. The proliferation of AM for public use will potentially lead to an unprecedented increase of legal action against individuals with disproportionately severe consequences. Were this to happen, it may even be what forces the necessary changes to copyright law for the post-modern technological world – though of course with many unfortunate individuals bearing the brunt of that disciplinary action.

For Regulation: Safety and IP infringement

One issue with unregulated AM is the question of how safe the item is and how easily CAD files can be distributed and used without infringement on patents. It is usually an enthusiastic hobbyist who designs and uploads the CAD file, not a qualified professional. One can therefore imagine that rigorous safety tests has not been fully carried out. So when the printed object fails, it could harm and possibly even lead to death. That’s why regulations should be implemented in the distribution and printing of 3D objects.

Of course, one could argue more regulation will limit people’s accessibility, but are we willing to sacrifice safety for the sake of accessibility? Would you rather have 1000 low-quality, brittle leg prosthetics, or have 10 high-quality, durable ones? Especially with objects concerning the safety of the user in high-risk activities, such as a bottle holder clip which could break off in a car and block the break pedal or the use of safety helmets, this issue becomes even more pertinent. Duty ethics argues that the act of regulating AM is a good action in of itself, because it protects the users from possible harm. Even if this action as a consequence alienates certain groups, it ensures user safety. Therefore regulating bodies; the safety commission, government and even printer suppliers themselves, should take moral responsibility in ensuring no harm comes to users by creating and enforcing laws for 3D printed objects.

Faulty 3D PrintThe possibility to produce small plastic parts at home, such as zip ties and replacement parts for household items could have a large impact on the companies that produce these items. Why bother leaving the house when you can just easily print from the comfort of your own garage? Whilst regulation with patent law is an option, it is increasingly difficult to regulate 3D printed builds with the current Intellectual Property (IP) laws. Copyright does not apply to functional items and it needs to be proved that the patent is known about for it to be violated. It has been suggested that regulation could be achieved without limiting AM by producing a database of CAD files alongside the current 2D drawings of patents.

In addition, printing for private use isn’t considered an infringement. This leads to one possible future for AM, ‘After the Siege’, a short story in which home use of AM has desolated all patent reliant companies and so its use has been outlawed leading to underground printing rings. Whilst extreme, it paints a picture of how disruptive AM could be to the economy and society if left unregulated.


For the safety of users and security of patent reliant business, some element of regulation is vital to the ethical growth of 3D printing; however it should be kept sufficiently open to allow the public to benefit. This enables precisely the kind of creation and progress of the useful arts and sciences that intellectual property is supposed to foster”




37 thoughts on “Group 75

  1. Good article, a lot of factors to weigh there. As for disruption to the economy, maybe it’d be best to force the economy to adapt to these new developments, rather than stifle progress in order to maintain the status quo.

  2. This is an excellent topic, and one I hadn’t even thought about until now. AM does have great diversity of geometry but the uptake in private ownership does lead to increasing production of parts that may look the part but not act the part, leading, as you say to accidents.

    Having read your article can you develop the ethical sides of the argument please? You have looked at the issue from a Duty Ethics point of view but are there any other angles.

  3. Safety is an important factor to consider, however this would fall under existing regulations rather than implying a need for AM specific regulations

  4. I agree that there should be some sort of regulations enforced otherwise AM could become a very dangerous and misused technology. However, while many people using AM at home are not professional or highly-skilled, I think the use of AM is their responsibility and they must accept the risks of doing so.
    I think AM is a growing technology that must be allowed to develop at a relaxed rate that we are able to keep up with in terms of these regulations.

  5. I think the development of AM could benefit consumers economically, so there could be an economic benefit. It would be interesting to know if companies who may suffer from the development of AM plan to deal with such a challenge.

  6. I agree with the argument that a clear and well thought regulation is a must in implementing AM technology in a large scale market. One thing to emphasize is how are AM technology going to be marketed? Is it by selling their 3D model CAD or the 3D printed model itself? As the either would have different ethics in determining the regulations related with it. Its frustrating to see a promising technology development to be hindered due to incompetent regulation. Overall, very interesting article!

  7. This is an interesting topic. I agree the age of additive manufacturing with 3D printers as a common household item is upon us.
    And safety is a potential issue.
    However, one issue with this I am quite concerned with is the environmental impact. As people decide to get creative, there is bound be failed attempts leading to unnecessary plastic waste which if not dealt with properly will only contribute to the well publicised issue of pollution I’m sure we are all aware of.

    Great article!

  8. Regulating 3D printing would be such a huge task any governing body would run out of money trying to regulate everything. The wide spread installation of home printers means that any regulation attempts at this point will be near impossible so is there any need to even argue for regulation?

    1. Is difficultly a reason to not do the right thing though? Streaming and downloading videos is considerably more wide spread but there has been increased policing and even jail time for copyright infringement, the effects with 3D printing would be arguably worse than with videos so isn’t the effort worth it?

  9. An interesting article and I agree that regulation needs to be updates to ensure that this technology isn’t misused. However, I do think that the spread of additive manufacturing is going to be inevitable and companies shouldn’t try to hinder the growth of this technology and instead try to adjust to it.

  10. Informative article, I think that the points raised about intellectual property and the claiming of it were especially valid and thought-provoking. Upon reading, I think the possibilities for AM are expansive enough to be overall beneficial to society.

  11. “Interesting article….clearly your group put a lot of thought into it, and it’s overall well written.

    I will share that I found the ‘For Regulation’ section unconvincing.

    I can appreciate the concerns about a 3d printed object failing and potentially causing “harm and possibly even lead to death”. I don’t think you’ve made the case that this justifies regulating the industry.

    First, most things that are 3d printed are not likely to be used in a manner that poses an undue risk any more than virtually any other product out there, yet we don’t regulate every other product in the same way.

    Take your example of the bottle holder clip, which based on the article you linked to did result in an accident. While on face value it might seem to be a logical leap to regulate 3d printing based on this, let’s compare this to similar risks. Just having a bottle in a car would arguably present the same risk; a driver could easily drop their bottle while taking a drink and have the same result. Yet car manufacturers include bottle holders that are purposely readily accessible by drivers. Should we regulate bottles in cars, period, or perhaps ban bottle holders in cars altogether?

    Similarly, at many stores it’s common to find cheap aluminum carabiners near the checkouts. People use them to attach all kinds of things. But using your argument we should probably regulate them to prevent the risk of a mountain climber from using them while climbing.

    You then go on to supplement your argument based on IP infringement concerns. Here your arguments are particularly insufficient.

    You label it as having the potential to “have a large impact on the companies that produce these items”. This in itself doesn’t warrant regulation.

    In general our IP laws try to encourage innovation. To achieve this there needs to be a balance between enabling inventors to enjoy the fruits of their inventions, without others stealing their ideas, and at the same time preventing those inventors from blocking others from creating better products later.

    ‘Whilst regulation with patent law is an option, it is increasingly difficult to regulate 3D printed builds with the current Intellectual Property (IP) laws.’

    Our patent laws today, while not perfect by any means, represent the balance we’ve struck between those things. There’s nothing particularly unique about 3D printing that demands a new set of regulations. We don’t need to have special regulations to prevent people from making infringing works using wood, paint, video cameras, software, writings, etc.

    ‘Copyright does not apply to functional items and it needs to be proved that the patent is known about for it to be violated.’

    You haven’t made an argument as to why the first part, functional items, is a problem. Through our IP laws we’ve decided that this is entirely okay, we don’t want people to patent those types of objects. You haven’t made any argument as to why 3D printing is substantially different from any other manufacturing technique and needs special protections not enjoyed by any other type of manufacturing.

    The second part, that it needs to be proved that the patent is known about for it to be violated, is factually incorrect. Your linked page specifically defines “willful infringement”. This is just a definition, but non-willfull infringement is still infringement and is a violation of someone’s IP rights. The distinction between the two is relevant in a civil case, where you might be awarded higher damages if the infringement was intentional. However, ignorance does not get you off the hook.

    Finally, using a fictional story to support the argument, particularly one that’s clearly an extremely unlikely scenario, doesn’t provide a compelling argument.

    Please take my feedback as a sincere attempt to provide you and your group some constructive feedback and not as diminishing your work so far. It’s great that your degree program is including a focus on ethics.

    Good luck!”

    – mbfireguy from https://goo.gl/XqCKb2

  12. “The for-regulation didn’t come across as considered.

    I felt the initial paragraph’s statement of “The common argument for regulation of AM is the possibility to produce weaponry at home…so other issues will be covered.”

    And then your major points for safety come back to “So when the printed object fails [referencing the gun]” (which is exactly what you said you WOULD NOT cover)…and then covering injuries as a result of the physical process of printing, not the 3D printed object use – “I got burned using a stove to make an omelet, therefore omelets are now part of this discussion”.

    Honestly, if you want to talk about safety, talk about what things would need to be overcome.

    1. Do a search for MOSFET as a start. People do repairs on their machines – do they need to be licensed, knowledgeable…or skating by on youtube tutorials?

    2. Material properties weren’t covered – are people going to know if material is toxic, from buying it online somewhere? Does it have disclaimers? What kind of ventilation is required? What kinds of dyes were used?

    3. Safety design requirements for items – is this easily learned, in such a manner where people can’t fail? If not, what can be done to address it? Are users/devices able to recognize inconsistent printing that would cause one piece to fail, where a previous printing was perfectly fine? (Especially as we get into printing metal – how much infill was used previously? What kind of infill was done?) Maybe talk about industrial uses – like printing car parts, and the risks of a personal/local shop reproducing the object. Find some real .stl’s offered that suggest actual risk (not guns, not guns!)

    I found the IP portion to be weak. (You are engineers, not necessarily lawyers. To be fair, most of us are not lawyers, right?) Point at current cases, if they exist. The single law school paper was…horrific. A single, intergovernmental database of 3D CAD files, that every printer would check against? Crazy talk. I’d stick to IP enforcement of stls, where brands have stepped in for files to be removed…much like movie studios’s or record labels’s actions. Or find articles about cottage industries, where people take CC-licensed stls (commercial or not) and sell them on Etsy/ebay/etc and imagine from there.

    Hope this helps.”

    – MrRemj from https://goo.gl/XqCKb2

  13. I like the article since I dont expect that 3D printings could lead to harmful purposes too, and I like very much the point where the 3D printing could helps so much with the needy people in Gaza with just 30 cents for a stethoscope. because I just thought that 3d printing just for fun to print toys or figurines at home (no big purposes of the products).
    I agree with the regulations but perhaps a regulation control on the printer based on the function of the product, where maybe the printer is connected to internet then internet detect the function of the product. for example stethoscope that we know it is for a good purposes then the regulation on the printer allowed it to be printed. while if the user want to print gun which is not really suitable for every people to have it, then the regulation control on the printer could not print it or just the ministry of army related only can of it.
    regarding the ethics, I think, each user should have virtue ethics regarding what should be or not, depending on the effect of the product on others.

  14. Interesting topic, really makes you think about the issue at hand. I think that it would be impossible to truly regulate 3D printing in the future, and so it would be more feasible for awareness to be raised about the dangers of improperly created items and the issues that they can cause if and/or when they break.

  15. The idea behind regulation is sound , however applying it will be an issue, the best point of call would be to put warnings, just like how movies have copyright symbols ,a warning can be given and those who choose to follow will, however tracking those who don’t will prove difficult as this technology becomes more common.

  16. Just because it would be difficult to regulate doesn’t mean it shouldn’t. However in saying that, a good way that allows for minimal regulation and appropriate safety is to have a good infer structure for ideas. By this, it could be a platform created that allows professionals to communicate with those who use 3D printing as a personal use and allows for ideas of people to spread. A platform could also allow safety and environmental issues to be stressed in which ideas that are not professionally or adequately designed can be identified as such and people understand the overuse of plastic.
    It would also be easier to regulate in a way that dangerous CAD designs can be removed without infringing on design and creativity.
    All in all, very interesting.

  17. I like that this article took to elaborating a hardly-mentioned aspect of the Additive Manufacturing craze: Regulation of the AM CAD files. On the one hand, like you’ve said, a lot of people may benefit from publicly available CAD- a group I’m in for an AM module is relying on a freely available base model of a device which we now intend to fully define (all permissibly, of course!) and this is a huge help. But it was the decision of the originator to make it freely available.

    Where the production of AM CAD files is person’s means of livelihood and their work is pirated and becomes available for free that’s a clear infringement on their rights. I think regulation is therefore necessary. It will be hard to delineate the intentionally freely available from the pirated and posted ones, but I believe creative ways of dealing with this can be found. For example, according to the DailyTelegraph, with the rise of paid-for streaming services, there’s been a considerable drop in online piracy of the content that these provide (especially with rising fears that pirated content often leaves the system susceptible to hacks and viruses).

    A combination of creative measures from the industry as well as consumer-fears of poor quality and potentially harmful alternatives to the original content- as you mentioned in your article- may perhaps lead to better protection for the creators.

  18. Interesting article, raises some clear issues that could be associated with the use of 3D printing. Do you believe there is any ways to make 3d parts more regular in their material structure so that the final product has repeatability in their failure modes and failure loads?

    1. Repeatability is something that is constantly being improved upon in AM both due to the desire to improve relationships with consumers (and obviously profits), and to provide a level of reliability that is appropriate for increased applications in current and new fields in order to benefit a wider range of people (and again increase profits). When repeatability is at a level similar to traditional methods this will reduce some of the ethical issues but currently is still something that needs to be addressed.

  19. It’s nice to see you picking this as your topic! I come down largely on the side of not needing further regulation – most situations are more likely to need interpretation and application of existing law to new situations rather than a need for new legislation entirely. There will probably be a few cases that set a precedent and then things will carry on as normal. There’s a nice report that covers some of this in case studies here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/413673/The_Current_Status_and_Impact_of_3D_Printing_Within_the_Industrial_Sector_-_Study_II.pdf

    One thing I disagreed on in your discussion was the idea that we’ll all start printing everything at home and never leave the house… It’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever get to the point where a 3d printer is cheap enough but high enough quality, and with the necessary range of materials, for us to just be printing everything at home…

    1. Thank you for your comment and the report! It’s got a lot of interesting points to consider and I’m particularly intrigued by the suggestion of implementing records within the code of CAD files to get show their origins and how this would increase the ease of monitoring files to implement regulations. It would be an unobtrusive way of protecting companies and end users without limiting the advancement of the AM industry, allowing the largest possible group of people to benefit.

  20. Definitely a well thought out article on both views of why it should be regulated. Although I do agree that there should be some regulations on what is produced to restrict weapons, but it can be a rather extreme method of acquiring a weapon considering 3D printers are still rather expensive and slow to produce detailed/accurate prints. A way to restrict what is put up onto file sharing sites would need to be restricted as well though to help limit the access.
    On the bit with limiting the ability to access files to professionals, there is plenty of things that have been produced by hobbyist that are to a very high quality in other markets. For example, self modified cars or games being produced.
    Also there is constantly a risk of harm with anything you do, walking down the street provides a risk of harm as you’re in a public domain where anything could happen. A big question in my mind is should it be regulated just cause of that risk of harm? If so why are kitchen knives and bladed articles only regulated by having to be over 18 to purchase them?

  21. Good article for highlighting the double edge sword of technology. 3-D printing has definitely grown in terms of market size and it its availability to the public. This could be a blessing for humanity as it works hand in hand between human creativity and robotic automation/precision thus making creation of object easier.
    On the other hand, if it falls into the wrong hand, it could cause harm to people. So in the end, we have to reflect and ask ourselves, are we ready for the risks in order to enjoy the rewards?

  22. An interesting subject with a good conclusion taking into account both sides of the argument clearly. It would be interesting to try and set the boundaries though; so that the products remain safe while still allowing creativity.

  23. Really interesting information about copyright laws here, I wonder how disputable the definition of ‘functional items’ could potentially end up getting!

  24. I would argue that, as with any new technology, safety is always paramount and the cons to regulation (lack of investing, consumer interest or creativity) do not qualify the projected success of AM.

    For AM to remain a safe and successful product, it is important to regulate the accessibility to patents because if a health and safety issue were to occur, it may be difficult to assign responsibility, causing further legal issues in this already grey legal area.

  25. I think both the ‘for’ and ‘against’ sections have valid arguments. I think though there will be a need for some regulation, even if this is minimal. For example, in the case of printing non-functional items such as children’s dolls, the object itself may not be patent-able, but the use of a character’s image without express permission infringes upon copyright and would harm the ability of the artist to make a living from their work.

    All in all, an interesting article.

  26. Interesting information and ideas about the copyright laws and changes. This is an important subject that needs to be considered as technology and society continues.

  27. The medical applications of such technology are fascinating, and I feel they alone would be worth a lot of discussion; surely the ability to access equipment reliably and at a low cost would be worth the financial hit to the normal manufacturers of such equipment. As for common household applications, I would, as a consumer, be concerned about the safety of anything I made with the technology.

  28. Regulation with any form of manufacturing, or any process than can exist as a commercial home-process as well as on an industrial scale is always a tricky argument, as it always end up feeling like a “people vs corporation”, with privatising and legal issues tied up.
    The section on the ability to print stethoscopes and other medical equipment for a very small fraction of their commercial cost is what I found most interesting in the article however. The fact that the difference is so large leads me to be inherently against further regulation, as then I’d see it as comparing potential utility vs profit, potentially endangering lives and more if the service can’t be used universally.

  29. Interesting and thought provoking – it will be interesting to see how effective regulation will be on AM, especially amongst hobbyists and DIY communities. I’ve 3-D printed so many parts in my time and have even tried to ape some existing designs without a second thought; maybe next time I’ll think twice!

  30. Though I doubt the effectiveness of more stethoscopes in the Gaza Strip without more medical professionals and drugs, the idea of whether it is plausible or not to regulate AM is very interesting. Though it would be near impossible to have records of all 3D printed products (and highly invasive), with the continuing growth of 3D printing it is only a matter of time before events will unfold which leading to tighter copyright laws.

  31. Fascinating article, I very much enjoyed reading it and thinking about it. I’m almost fully convinced now that most regulation is not in the best interests of humanity. I find your arguments against regulation much more compelling, as it seems to come largely (but not entirely) down to a question of people vs companies, with the creative freedom and lower costs for consumers heavily outweighing the potential for companies to suffer financial losses.

    I feel that the safety argument requires further depth of discussion concerning the type of regulation and it’s extent. Would it be a ban on the production of certain products, a requirement for certain qualifications before the tech can be used (in the same vein as a drivers licence), or some other form? I like RoryH’s example of a platform that allows communication between professionals and home users. It’s a great example of minimal, user controlled regulation which would solve the safety issue while still giving the maximum amount of creative freedom to the users. I’m not sure that there’s any form of official regulation that would be any safer, and there certainly aren’t any that allow for as much freedom. Besides, our society values freedom over health and safety in many sectors (consider a lack of regulations on carcinogenic foods for example), so I struggle to see why AM should be any different. While it’s impossible to objectively quantify the virtue of freedom, it seems clear to me that there is a point where we have to trust adults with self-imposed danger, and put the responsibility on their shoulders. Perhaps the question of whether freedom is more valuable than life itself is too philosophical for a comment section, however.

    Speaking of philosophy, the deontological argument that you gave doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. It’s too reductionist in my opinion, because it doesn’t weigh up the potential for lives enhanced and saved against the chance for injury and death. This would be necessary if you want to argue that the duty we have is to prevent harm, but I’m also not entirely convinced that that our duty is as simple as that. I’d like to see more ethical perspectives taken into consideration, and I think that the majority would favour a lack of regulation.

    I’m a cynical man with very little sympathy or trust for the companies that might suffer without regulation. The good of the public is more important than the good of companies. I’m not even convinced that it would be too harmful to the companies anyway. After all, people pay for convenience and security when it comes to things like this. Using the example of prosthetic limbs that you gave: if I needed a prosthetic leg, would I create one myself, or would I pay professionals to do it? I would choose the latter for the reasons above, as I imagine most other people would, so the production company would still most likely be fine.

    Furthermore, and most importantly, the ability to produce goods at home would provide a useful check against companies charging exorbitant prices for goods, because if they did, people would all just make the goods themselves. Strict regulation would be exploitable because if there is no option for consumers to make things themselves, the companies could charge as much as they wanted. This phenomenon is observable in sectors all over the world, with the most obvious example being drug companies protected by patent laws in the USA. IP laws, while innocent in theory, are too exploitable, and corporations love to exploit for capital gain whenever they can get away with it, so regulation to protect their ability to do so would be very detrimental in my opinion.

    There are also some things that aren’t mentioned in the article that I’d like to see your opinion on. Firstly, there have been some concerns over the environmental damage that could be caused by non-recyclable nanomaterials. Perhaps we will find a way of dealing with these in a sustainable way, or perhaps we will find new materials that are recyclable normally, but regulation limiting their usage in public and private sectors could be a good idea until either of these conditions are met. What are your thoughts on this?

    Finally, I have concerns over the strong possibility that this technology will lead to displacement of labour in manufacturing sectors. It will certainly be cheaper than hiring workers to manually produce goods after all, so will it lead to mass unemployment? The problem only gets worse, and more complicated, when we look at it from a global perspective. A lot of basic manufacturing is outsourced to other (generally less economically developed) countries, so much so that it becomes a large part of their economy. Jobs are based on this, and imports and exports are often part of this international manufacturing web too. If it becomes cheaper to produce goods domestically, it seems that this will lead to less international trading, and countries that are dependent on this will suffer immensely. I would say that we have an ethical obligation towards these countries and their people, but corporations tend to disagree. A whole lot of these problems probably wouldn’t exist if not for the inherent evils of capitalism, but hey, that’s not what this is about. My questions on this matter are as follows: Should this be taken into consideration when deciding how/if to regulate AM tech? If so, how can regulations be designed so as to protect the workers, both domestically and internationally? And finally, should there be international regulation, or should regulation be decided upon by individual countries?

    – big cheng

  32. A very interesting read, I have to agree that safety is a big concern if this technology was to be used on a wider and more public basis, but it should still be available to the public in the future. It would not be ideal to have something with such great potential and beneficial uses to become too limited for the sake of regulation.

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