3D printing technology has advanced significantly in a relatively short period of time, writes Maria Peyman, senior associate, Birketts LLP. The advances have resulted in it becoming more affordable, leading to an increase in the popularity of self-production.
Given the range of products that can be created through 3D printing any of the ‘traditional’ intellectual property (IP) rights may apply to a printed item. Patents could apply to a printed item as a whole, or component parts of the printed item.
Registered designs can protect the appearance of an item or parts of an item, whilst unregistered design rights apply to the shape and configuration of items and will equally apply to any copies.
It’s long been a lament of astronauts: If only there were pizza in space. So a couple of years ago, NASA awarded a US$125,000 grant to a mechanical engineer to solve the problem. He produced a prototype 3D printer that “prints” layers of food out of powdered cartridges. First comes a layer of dough (cooked via a heat plate at the bottom of the printer); then some tomato powder, water, and oil for a sauce; all topped by a mouthwatering “protein layer.” A 3D-printed pizza has to be at least better than freeze-dried.
If 3D printing can deliver pizza to outer space, what can it do back home? That’s becoming less and less of an idle question as the 3D printer continues to move away from its origins as a bulky, ultra-expensive plaything for hobbyists and early adopters.
A few years ago, the expiration of many key 3D printing patents had the 3D printing community abuzz. The 3D printing patents that expired in the 2013-15 timeframe are described here. At that time, many articles challenged the conventional wisdom that intellectual property drives innovation by creating competition, since the existence of IP forces workarounds. Those articles argue that patents prevented innovation in 3D printing because the fear of being sued led to a lack of investment in 3D printing R&D, and that patent litigation hindered the adoption of the technology. The end result, some believe, is that IP creates barriers to entry for new market players, minimizes competition, and keeps prices artificially high.
The expiration of several key 3D printing patents in 2013, 2014, and 2015 was supposed to change the industry. So what happened? Did the expiration of those patents lead to market growth, reduction in prices, and new products? Or were other forces, such as the technology itself, holding back new 3D printing technologies? Are there other 3D printing patents that will expire soon that could have similar effects? Although it is still too early to give definitive answers to these questions, this article describes developments in the 3D printing industry since the expiration of some of the so-called key patents and discusses 3D printing patents that have or will expire soon.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk — More Than Prototyping: Digital Manufacturing’s Role in Industry 4.0 — by Proto Labs’ CTO Rich Baker at last week’s Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis .
In his talk, Baker discussed several topics, including the limitations of materials and 3D printing processes on the design and production cycle, use cases for 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM), the opportunities and challenges of using these technologies for end-to-end production, and how these and other new technologies are driving shifts in system design methodology.
The perception and promise of 3D printing are that it provides a simple, fast and automated digital workflow, a process where complexity is free. That perception is generally accurate up to the point that parts are removed from the 3D printer. But, as soon as parts enter the post-processing phase, the automated, push-button process becomes a manual operation that has a tangible and significant impact on a company’s bottom line.
Commissioned by 3D printer manufacturer Rize, the report summarizes the post-processing experiences six of global manufacturers representing the automotive, consumer products, medical devices, sporting goods and architecture industries. “3D PRINTING: THE IMPACT OF POST-PROCESSING” uses the company’s experiences to paint a clear picture of the impact of post-processing requirements in terms of time, cost, quality staffing, facilities and operations, and what eliminating post-processing would mean for their companies.
Read the report
As a comparatively new technology that has not yet been fully integrated into the larger manufacturing supply chain, 3D printing represents an opportunity to do things differently. Whereas the industrial revolution of yesteryear established a business as usual plagued with smoke stacks, poisoned water supplies, floating garbage islands and deadly labor practices, advanced manufacturing, including 3D printing, could bring about the implementation of ethical employment, closed-loop production and eco-friendly materials.
If 3D printing is to contribute to the urgent and necessary eco-industrial revolution of the 21st century, we must take stock of both the pitfalls and benefits of the technology as it relates to sustainable production. How can 3D printing aid in efforts to manufacture and deliver products in ways that reduce the negative human impact on the Earth’s ecosystem? What obstacles does the technology face in order to bring about such positive change?
To help Malaysian manufacturers realise further productivity gains from 3D printing technology, The Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) is offering a complimentary, half-day workshop themed ‘Concept to Reality.’
The workshop (scheduled for 29 September 2016 at Wisma FMM, Kuala Lumpur), is in the wake of the past year’s increasing adoption of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.
Globally, 3D printing has been has been helping businesses improve the way they design and produce products.
Local manufacturers need to learn more about how simulation and 3D printing technology can advance product design and manufacturing and break through design limitations, said the organisers.
A company working to end American dependency on Russian rockets used 3D printing to prototype its latest development.
Aerojet Rocketdyne’s high-thrust AR1 booster engine can be used for heavy launch vehicles such as the Atlas V. It was commissioned by the Air Force to replace the RD-180, which is built in Russia and used on the Atlas V.
The same company that built the RS-25 engines for the space shuttle, Aerojet Rocketdyne proposed the AR1 to the U.S. government in 2014, arguing that it could be produced in the United States relatively inexpensively. The booster generates an impressive 500,000 pounds-force of thrust at sea level and runs on liquid-oxygen propellants and an oxygen-rich staged combustion kerosene engine.
The advent of the Internet of Things has emerged just when 3D printing begins to make solid inroads into manufacturing end-user parts. What do these two developments mean for company operations?
PCB designers are adopting 3D printing to prototype and manufacture parts for IoT devices more quickly and effectively.
IoT and 3D printing might look like the greatest marriage of two buzzwords in the history of tech. The internet of things, after all, unlike the internet of applications and data, takes up 3D space and uses physical materials, including the electronics that control devices and carry their data home. The ability of 3D printers to produce one-offs from CAD designs cheaply and quickly promotes experimentation and is therefore a boon to designers. It should not surprise, then, that in the past few years we’ve begun to see the convergence of IoT and 3D printing, with 3D printing applied to the prototyping and even manufacturing of circuitry and printed circuit boards, much of it for IoT devices.
The term “3D” is used loosely in this context. Good old 2D laser printers have been used by hobbyists to print flat circuit designs. These prints, transferred to a blank, copper-clad FR4 (flame-resistant fiberglass) board, make the mask that shields the copper from the “etching” acid bath that eats away all the unshielded copper in between your circuit’s conductive traces. Most of the “3D” board prototyping printers now available or in development are actually printing 2D lines of conductive ink — i.e., traces — in 3D space, using printheads that can be directed along X, Y and Z axes.
3D printing raises a number of issues for copyright owners already facing the challenges of the internet and other digital technologies. The photocopier copies documents. Digital technologies and the internet have resulted in the copying of films and music. Now with 3D printing, three dimensional articles can be easily copied. And the copies can be mass produced or custom made potentially depriving the copyright owner of substantial revenuesi.
While copying of articles has always been an issue for copyright laws, it is the potential scale of copying and the use of digital technology which may see the development of the law in this area.
- Existing laws relating to the design copyright overlap will apply to the making of articles by 3D printing. With a few exceptions, the making of copy articles by 3D printing will not infringe copyright where the copyright owner has made and sold the article.
- The provisions in the Copyright Act relating to “reverse engineering” (although not described as such) provide that it is not an infringement of copyright to make a drawing depicting an article as part of the process of making that article by reverse engineering if the making of the article itself does not infringe copyright.
- However, the reverse engineering defence will not apply to the making of a copy of a digital file used in making the copy of the article because the digital file is a literary work and the relevant defence only applies to artistic works.
- Copyright owners are likely to face challenges to the ownership of copyright in the digital files on the basis that it can be argued that there is no human author of the digital file.