Regulation and policy take centre stage at TCT 3D printing show

by Inline Policy on 02 Nov 2015

According to recent research by management consultancy A.T. Kearney, the global market for 3D printing is set to grow from $4.5 billion today to $17.2 billion by 2020. With this rapid growth will come added scrutiny from policy makers and regulators. To support its long term growth, and for the industry to fulfil its remarkable potential, a supportive regulatory and policy framework will be critical. To help build this framework, and to put in place policies that will stimulate industry growth and accelerate the uptake of 3D printing technology across the economy, it will be imperative for industry associations to play their part and to engage with key policy makers and regulators.

This is well understood by the 3D Printing Association (3DPA), whose mission statement is to support and represent the interests of all organisations working within the 3D printing industry worldwide. The association has offices in the U.S., the UK, Spain and Germany and is therefore able to draw on the experiences of its members in different jurisdictions around the world. The 3DPA conducted a survey of its members and the wider community earlier this year and the regulatory environment was identified as one of the issues which respondents thought the association should focus on in future.

Building on this survey, the 3DPA, in partnership with Inline Policy, brought together leaders from the 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) industry, as well as legal and policy experts, at this year’s TCT Show + Personalise event in Birmingham to discuss the key policy and regulatory challenges for the industry. The TCT Show is one of the world’s leading events dedicated to 3D printing and this was an ideal forum in which to reflect on regulatory matters. The panel featured:

  • Todd Grimm – Founder and President, T. A. Grimm & Associates.
  • Chris Krampitz – Innovations Director, UL.
  • Adrian Sim – Partner, Bristows.
  • Shomik Panda – Founder and Managing Director, Inline Policy (chair).

There were a number of key takeaways from the event:

1) The diverse regulatory landscape presents a challengeAll participants re-iterated that there is a lack of 3D printing/AM sector specific regulation, with regulations often being product specific, as opposed to applying to the sector as a whole. There are also a number of general regulations that apply right across the economy in areas such as intellectual property or consumer protection which impact the sector. However, there is often a lack of harmonisation in these areas, especially in Europe, which can create added obstacles when it comes to going to market or expanding into new territories. The vast array of often complex regulations applicable to the sector can make it difficult for the industry when it comes to identifying lobbying priorities. One way to tackle this, the panellists suggested, would be for the industry to work with trade associations from other sectors, if there are areas of common ground on a particular piece of regulation or policy. This ‘multiplier effect’ would, it was felt, enable the industry to be in a much stronger position to influence policy.

Panellists were in agreement that the creation of a bespoke set of regulations for the 3D printing industry is not practical or realistic given the diverse nature of the sector and its associated business models. In addition, policy makers are not likely to make exceptions for the industry from existing sets of rules that have already been developed. As a result, it was felt that rather than going against the grain, the sector should look to replicate regulatory best practice from other industries where possible, especially in areas such as safety standards. Where there are regulatory gaps, the industry should, it was agreed, look to self-regulate and be proactive with national standard authorities or in developing best practice guidelines. Finally, it was also suggested that larger market players should help to drive awareness amongst new businesses of what is required from a regulatory compliance perspective, as this would help to drive best practice across the industry.

2) The industry needs to engage and educate - A consistent thread throughout the discussion was that there is growing awareness of the industry by policy makers, but not necessarily an understanding of the different business models that exist, how the technology is used and the key challenges facing the sector. There is also, it was suggested, a great deal of misinformation about the sector, even from within the supplier community itself. As a result, there was strong consensus that more needs to be done by the industry as a whole to better inform and educate regulators and policy makers. To support such engagement it was felt that more industry data was required to provide a solid evidence base for any proposed regulatory amendments or policy changes.

The benefits of this engagement would be that the industry would not only be able to influence the shape of regulation already in development, but would also be much more likely to be effective in advocating for good quality regulations in future. The consensus was that it is vital for the industry to get ahead of the regulatory curve because without having such discussions, laws will be revised and policies developed without any real appreciation of how the 3D printing industry will be impacted.

3) The industry needs to be part of the policy conversation – The importance of this point is amplified when one analyses recent policy and regulatory developments in the European Union, and especially when you look at the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy published in May 2015. Within this strategy there are numerous strands of activity that are of direct relevance to the 3D printing industry. Central to this is the commitment by the Commission to put in place a “modern, more European copyright law.” The Commission will also look at the role of online intermediaries in relation to copyright-protected work and will increase enforcement against commercial-scale infringements of intellectual property rights. A comprehensive analysis of the role of online platforms is also underway and work will be done to identify priorities for standards and interoperability in areas critical to the digital economy. The European Commission has since confirmed that, as part of its Single Market strategy, it will consult, consider and propose further measures, as appropriate, to improve the patent system in Europe. These policy agendas represent both an opportunity for the sector, through increased harmonisation, but also a threat if legislation emerges which does not reflect the interests of the 3D printing industry.

4) Liability issues need to be addressed – One of the most prominent challenges discussed by the panel was that of liability. As Adrian Sim observed, there are a number of people involved in the creation of a final 3D printed product and if something was to go wrong, especially in safety critical areas such as aerospace or medical devices, who will be held responsible or bear the cost? This will become even more of an issue as more and more consumers start to use 3D printers at home. When such issues do arise, it was felt that the industry needs to be able to react quickly and to mobilise around a core set of points. Industry associations such as the 3DPA can play a key role in building a consensus and speaking on behalf of the industry.

5) Industry starts from a position of strength – Whilst there was plenty of discussion around the need for the sector to step-up its education and engagement, it must be remembered that there is plenty of evidence that the sector is already being championed and backed by policy makers and politicians. For example, a £60 million aerospace and 3D printing centre, which was part-funded by government, was opened by UK Business Minister Anna Soubry in June 2015. Former UK Business Secretary of State Vince Cable also dedicated £14.7 million of government funding to develop 3D printing projects back in 2013. Separately, in 2014, the first year of the EU Horizon 2020 Programme, nine AM projects and actions were selected to benefit from more than €17 million in EU funding.

There are evidently numerous issues for the sector and the 3DPA to consider after this discussion and in relation to policy and regulatory matters more generally. Panel events such as this are vital in helping to get this conversation started and the 3DPA is looking to continue playing a key role in driving the policy agenda.

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Topics: European Union, 3D printing regulation, UK politics, Technology, Economy, UK business

Inline Policy

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