3D printing may still be in its early days in terms of wide public use and knowledge, but it has the potential to turn consumer goods production and supply on their heads. And it has the potential to have a big impact on product safety in ways we have barely begun to even think about.
Some product safety benefits of 3D printing
Product safety benefits include:
- It is easier and cheaper to revise and refine product prototypes – to try out a design, test and improve it before going into production
- There will be more localized production and distribution for some products, reducing the size of the supply chain and allowing better safety and quality controls
- Custom-made products will provide consumers with products designed for their own ergonomic needs, which will enhance utility and safety
What are the risks?
As with many innovations, for all the positive applications, there can be new product dangers. Some things to watch out for include:
- New entrants into production and supply will not be experienced or aware of product standards, regulations or hazard reduction
- Both physical and chemical hazards may be created in products through home and small business 3D production
- Designers may not be as familiar with safety principles for product design and other hazard reduction (such as warnings, instructions)
- Standards won’t keep up, or be as easily applied given the variability of 3D printing designs and materials
- Pop-up factories and suppliers may become prevalent in the market, including some rogue operators
- Incorrect parts created for existing products may render them unsafe
- The quality of raw materials may be variable and not be subject to checks
Democratization of production and supply
In the same way that e-commerce has enabled new market entrants and new means of supply, 3D printing has the potential to change the way products are made and distributed.
The internet has allowed democratisation of consumer product supply. 3D printing will allow democratisation of consumer product manufacture.
Possibilities will open up for new designers, ‘prosumers’ and businesses including those in remote locations and developing nations.
All these factors create challenges for maintaining product safety in local and global markets.
Addressing the emerging challenges
The product safety issues listed above are not necessarily new, but all those with an interest in consumer safety will need to work out how to meet the challenges that 3D printing brings.
As with all product safety measures, each sector needs to play a part. A raft of strategies is needed from within the 3D printing industry, the supply sector, governments, educators and consumers.
For more detail on the points covered in this blog read Product Safety Solutions’ white paper, which contains a range of strategies and recommendations to help all relevant players get consumer product safety onto the 3D printing agenda.
I have also prepared an infographic to illustrate some of the issues. And I will be producing a regular newsletter on 3D printing and product safety. All these resources are available at Product Safety Solutions website productsafetysolutions.com.au. Product Safety Solutions is an Australian-based consultancy in consumer product safety and design.