3D Printing to Make Impact in the Insurance Industry: Trials in the UK Offer Replacement of Bespoke Items


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853ba858-6245-4921-8fe5-dad45e55ed48As the world of 3D innovation becomes expansive beyond most of what any of us ever could have imagined, with 3D printers out there now for everything from making jewelry to food to cells, the rest of the industry is growing as well moving from being a completely new technology and lawless frontier to conducting more normal business as we see mergers which should be destined for great success, often touchy issues such as intellectual property and patent laws being considered, and now even more basic sensibilities to include helping with insurance claims.

Spurred on by recent events in the UK, it seems as though there may be some new options within the insurance industry. As 3D printing offers so much transformation with manufacturing and numerous sectors, this may also translate into making changes in terms of what protection and replacement options are offered for heirlooms and bespoke products. In what is being referred to as a groundbreaking collaboration between Birmingham City University’s Jewellery Industry Innovation Centre, Cooksongold and The Assay Office Birmingham, claims specialists SBS Insurance Services has successfully replaced a range of bespoke items.

One name that might stand out here too if you are a 3D printing enthusiast is Cooksongold, a leader in direct metal 3D printing and a global supplier of materials like gold, silver, platinum, and more. As experts in precious metals, we’ve followed stories involving this company as they’ve recently launched a gold collection and a new platinum material, and most certainly it was not a surprise to hear that they were called in for their knowledge in using 3D printing to replace items successfully.

cac83888-0185-4264-acf9-5b090b61794dAccording to SBS, now the ‘irreplaceable’ can indeed by replaced with 3D printing, and with this use of technology, contents insurance claims may be forever changed, thanks to the new project, which was funded by Innovate UK as part of a Knowledge Transfer Programme.

“The major problem for insurers is that they are often faced with valuing and settling claims for high value items based on vague descriptions and old records, such as photographs, outdated valuations or old sales invoices,” says Paul Fairbrass, Technical Director at SBS Insurance Services.

In trials, SBS demonstrated that they were, not surprisingly, able to simply make new items to replace the old—and they were able to do so with great speed and affordability offering savings of up to 30 to 50 percent—with great customer satisfaction. The new service has already been nominated for two award categories at the British Insurance Awards 2016:

  • Claims Initiative of the Year – Outsourced Partner
  • The Technology Award

“Once an item has been validated, the insurer must find a matching equivalent from a limited range on offer from retailers. This can be impossible with bespoke items or family heirlooms,” said Fairbrass.

“Alternatively, a bespoke item can be manufactured using wax casts to try and replicate the item. But this has been expensive, cumbersome, and it makes the claims process very slow for the customer who might, even then, not be pleased with the replacement item.”

c96501bb-3af7-447d-81fe-ca61c20ae30cWhile often insurers agree to release a settlement in the form of cash or a voucher—and sometimes there are times when the recipients are happier with that outcome—often, it’s obviously not a great outcome for the customer and it’s expensive for the insurance company. Fairbrass sees this new process as extending to other claims as well, and sees 3D printing as having an impact in the insurance industry that is ‘hugely significant.’

So far, they have replaced jewelry in the form of 3D printed items such as a gold bangle, pendant, and several pairs of gold earrings. According to SBS, the policyholders were ‘delighted,’ upon having assumed their jewelry would never be ‘returned.’ The technology has been tested for claims in other areas, and SBS will most likely begin using this process in claims for items other than jewelry.

“The ability to have required parts and components printed on demand will reduce product obsolescence factors, and enable more economical fixes on many accidental damage claims for appliances,” says Fairbrass. “Items which currently are just written off may be able to be repaired very cost-effectively. This is particularly relevant in our expertise of household contents claims.”

46da2601-493a-487d-8730-89eb88a35fdbThe process is, obviously, positive all around, as 3D printing works its magic in allowing for each claim to be customized and customer specific, allowing for ‘radical improvement’ to the customer experience, efficiency in claims, and again—great savings on the bottom line for the insurer.

“We’ve now proved that 3D printing completely changes what is possible,” says Fairbrass.

SPS Insurance Services are a provider of flexible solutions for home and commercial insurance claims, known for their ability to offer flexible, tailored solutions with a balance between technological innovations and people-based expertise. How do you see this latest development really affecting the claims process in the future? Discuss in the Insurance Claims & 3D Printing forum over at 3DPB.com.


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