The 3D Printing Revolution; Simon Jones, Partner at DLA Piper's Birmingham Office Considers the Benefits and Legal Ramifications That a New Printing Process Will Inevitably Bring

Article excerpt

Byline: Simon Jones

In recent years digital copying and downloads have revolutionised the music and film industries, completely changing consumer expectations, testing the concept of producers' rights and forcing the industry to develop new business models.

Now manufacturing and design-based companies may face a similar upheaval as their market is transformed by 3D copying.

3D printing is a relatively new manufacturing technique. The printer builds up a 3D object by laying down layer upon layer of material. Each layer forms a thin slice of the finished item, with the better printers able to add colour as well.

Essentially, 3D printing offers the potential to create real objects - whether decorative items such as figurines, or industrial parts - from a virtual model inside a computer. The computer file from which the 3D object is printed could be created by scratch from 3D modelling software or scanned into the computer from a real-world object using a 3D scanner.

For low volume runs 3D printing is already cheaper than traditional manufacturing methods such as injection moulding.

Traditional manufacturing techniques are usually only cost effective on high volume runs, yet assessing the demand for a new product without the benefit of historical data is extremely difficult. Prototyping a product using 3D printing allows the product to be road tested more effectively, and set up the manufacturing lines to get the mass-produced product right first time. …