Take care of your heart, you won't be able to print the spare one anytime soon!
3D printing is often expected to be the next big thing to revolutionize many disciplines from the gun industry to medicine. One aspect of the revolution is claimed to drastically shorten the supply chain, which then consequently impacts the P&C (re)insurance sector. The other aspect is more in the L&H space, where we often hear about 3D printing organs and other body parts. I believe that both are hugely hyped and here is why.
In a nutshell, "3D" added to "printing" implies that the printing needle is working not only in a horizontal but also vertical manner. The item is essentially being printed layer by layer. 3D Bioprinting implies that the material used was of biological origin i.e. cells.
The person owning a 3D printer can download CAD (Computer Added Design) files from the Internet or design their own to print things on the spot in their home. It is an excellent technology for prototyping which has been used for decades. As the advancements push further boundaries, there has been a real aspiration to take 3D printing to another level and start printing both on macro as well as nano scales. Here some cool examples online – it is fascinating!
Before joining Swiss Re, I did some work for a medical devices company in Australia which specialized in 3D printing highly customized medical devices (think of 3D printed jaws, vertebraes…). You would be surprised to learn that customisable and unique 3D printed medical devices actually enjoy a low regulatory burden in most jurisdictions. Due to their customised character (produced in accordance with a specific prescription for a specific individual), they are not subject to ex-ante oversight controls, normal quality system requirements or conformity assessment requirements.
The company's vision was that every hospital should have a 3D printer at the premises and use it on regular basis. One day it would also cover the organic structures! Imagine the rate of public liability cover for this innovative hospital…
You can debate who the producer in different scenarios is (owner of the printer, the manufacturer/supplier of the printer and the person that actually created and/or used an untested product). However, the 'strict liability' regime does not apply to producers of custom-made products. On top of it, the close involvement of patients in the frame of 3D manufacturing implies that it is a conscious and informed decision to choose a 3D printed product, because there is no traditional treatment available. In cases where the informed consent and the process was performed with due care, no liability should be expected.
The truth is that the technology has been around since the 90s. By its very nature, 3D printed medical devices and body parts are always tailor-made so even with recent breakthroughs in nanotechnology, it remains a niche industry. Its commercial success depends on much higher R&D funding and further discoveries. Only then should the current 3D printing scenarios will move from the world of sci-fi into our real lives.
Category: Funding longer lives: Health/medicine, Other
Location: Zürich, Switzerland