3d printing and additive manufacture

The Intellectual Property Institute of Australia organised this talk. I have an interest in 3D printing as part of the Maker Space culture which is developing in libraries and elsewhere and this event gave me some great foundational information about the broader uses and implications of this technology.

3d printing and additive manufacture: myths, facts and the future

Dr Martin Leary – Advanced Manufacturing Precinct – RMIT 

3d printing is considered a form of additive manufacturing and can be used for rapid prototyping.

Additive manufacturing is defined as the process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies. Synonyms are additive fabrication, additive processes, additive techniques, additive layer manufacturing, layer manufacturing, and freeform fabrication.

(ASTM International – formerly the American Society for Testing and Measurement)

Traditional manufacture is an outside in process, begin with solid (bar, block, rod etc.) and remove bits you don’t need until you have your product. Additive is inside out – start with feed stock and add as required.

When you create a design for printing, you can create the perfect form. This cannot be translated into the physical, so 3D printing is an approximation of an approximation – the more detail, the less error but the greater the cost.

There was a recent article in the Economist about this being a disruptive technology. (http://www.economist.com/news/technology-quarterly/21584447-digital-manufacturing-there-lot-hype-around-3d-printing-it-fast) Will it bring about a new industrial revolution?

Traditionally as batch size grows, cost decreases and on the other hand if complexity increases, so does cost. With additive tech, the cost is not dependent on batch size or complexity. Additive manufacture is not as good with large batches and low complexity but will improve in future.

There is a different degree with each form of manufacture. As behaviour of additive manufacture is different to traditional manufacture, it can be considered to be disruptive.

Opportunities for additive manufacturing include – mass customisation, including jewellery, dental parts and other tech, at an affordable price. You can still create mass copies of a product, but with additive manufacturing, can also customise to particular customer needs. You can increase complexity without an unreasonably high level of cost. You can even get complexity at reduced cost.  There is even some complexity that can’t be created with traditional manufacture.

Strategic opportunities for additive manufacturing include:

  • rapid prototyping with a low lead time and acceptable form,
  • fix turning with low volume and mass customised production – good strength, high geometric flexibility and low cost,
  • high vale components

Martin had several samples of additive manufacture objects which were handed around. He showed several short videos of one of the parts being designed and then created to show that it could work.

Designs are all digital and can be shared easily which raises many intellectual property issues.

Medical opportunities are amazing, can trial medical treatments on prototypes of the patient’s area of concern.

Showed video of fascinator 3D printed for Melbourne Cup.

Showed parts from aerospace where new additive manufacture part was better, more efficient and lighter – just one part saved 500 grams and an estimated 10,000 euros per year.

Additive manufacturing is maturing, core intellectual property is expiring but there is opportunity for significant new intellectual property development. One issue is the hobbyist and their developments which will be discovered through non-traditional sources. Eg. blogs.

There are significant commercial opportunities in additive manufacturing. It is disruptive, but it will bring many opportunities.

Greg Munt – Patent Attorney – Griffith Hack

Do current laws protect owner’s intellectual property rights in the era of additive manufacturing?  There are opportunities for patent and design protection as the design and manufacture is different.  Current laws will still work at present.

But the enforcement of intellectual property will be more difficult.  Patents protect inventions which are solutions to problems. Designs can be registered for how it looks. Both are about exclusive rights.

Not sure that 3D printing is a negative for intellectual property. 3D printing gives individuals opportunity to manufacture for personal use. This does not avoid infringement of patent and design rights. But the onus is still on the intellectual property owner to enforce their rights. Will intellectual property owners then sue individuals? Don’t think that will happen.

Intellectual property owners will be choosy about who to sue – most likely the people who make the digital files available. But if they ate overseas and the rights only exist in Australia, then it can’t be pursued. May have to expand their intellectual property rights into overseas markets, but still have problems then taking action.


Mixed material printing – still being researched and in prototyping at present.

Professional indemnity and product liability – if pattern is sold and something goes wrong, is the company liable. Not really different to current manufacturing.

3D scanning copies the design but not the object. When talking designs the protection is for how it looks, patents is for what it does and why it takes that form.  Manufacturers can rely on tech know-how to protect their intellectual property. However, 3D scanning will allow reverse engineering which will broaden the know-how – so manufacturers will have to look at fundamental patent and design protection.

3D printing requires a pattern file and then settings to make the pattern happen – this latter file is just as important in value otherwise the resulting product can be flawed.

Intellectual property law is designed to protect creators, so that needs to be considered in future legal developments.

Training for practitioners? – can get training or recommendations from the Additive Manufacturing Precinct at RMIT.

Who gets rich from this? The owners of the intellectual property and the people building it.

Legal requirements for additive manufacturing parts will be the same as now – need to undergo the same rigorous testing. As these parts are developed and start hitting the market, they will be used with non-critical systems first and then spread, after they has been proven.

Joe Anybody can design and is protected by copyright and can register a design even before it is built. Once built it could be patentable.

No case law on any of this at present on this.

Intellectual property is still important, regardless of peer to peer sharing.  Innovation is still key and companies are still investing much in it. People need to be rewarded for their hard work.

Can it be used for housing to improve building times? There is research in doing complicated buildings. Potential is there and already been done by Loughborough University. Could be vital for projects like building on the moon – instead of taking pre-fab materials, take the machine and the appropriate powder and create and construct it there.