Aerospace Underwriters Analyze Potential Liability from Growing Use of 3-D Printers

July 16, 2015

The International Union of Aerospace Insurers (IUAI) held its annual general meeting (AGM) in Bengaluru, India, which included a session on the potential impact of 3-D printing in aerospace manufacturing in the future.

A bulletin from the IUAI, following the conference indicates that the “growing use of 3-D printing in the manufacture of aviation parts has the potential to create a new breed of liability risks for the industry insurers.”

Martin Cox, Underwriting Executive Global Aerospace, speaking at the AGM, told delegates that the aviation sector “had been an early adopter of the process and leading aerospace manufacturers were already using parts manufactured via additive layer manufacturing (ALM). Boeing manufactured 22,000 components last year via ALM and by 2020 GE Aviation expects to manufacture 100,000 components via 3-D.”

He also noted that the “benefits to the industry are many with the ability to reduce the weight of aircraft and create parts and tools in remote locations if needed. Indeed NASA has used the system to send details of a wrench to the 3-D printer on the International Space Centre which was then created and used by the astronauts.”

Cox indicated that the “only barrier to the creation of a complete aircraft using ALM was the fact that at present there is no printer big enough.

However, while the benefits to the aviation industry are clear, Cox also warned that the use of ALM may well give rise to new risks for insurers and their clients. “The boundaries between manufacturers and end user will potentially become blurred with the use of 3-D printing, as end users will be able to print partial or even complete products themselves,” he said.

This may give rise to questions over who would be liable for any product failure. Cox explained that in the event of an “aviation disaster, linked to a 3-D printed part, the liability target may well include the aircraft manufacturer that printed the part, the manufacturer of the 3-D printer, printer distributors, software designers, the ‘digital designer’ who manipulated the software to instruct the printer what to print, and the supplier of the feedstock used in the 3-D printer.”

He added that while it may take time for the issue around 3-D printing to filter into the insurance sector underwriters were already talking to clients on the issue and he encouraged delegates to discuss the issue with their clients to ensure that potential exposures could be identified.

In all 190 delegates attended the IUAI’s AGM and Secretary General Designate, Neil Smith said the event had been very well received.

Source: International Union of Aerospace Insurers (IUAI)

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