The UK government urgently needs to create a 3D printing policy to protect product designers while stimulating manufacturing growth as the technology develops, says a new report.
Three-dimensional printing could shift manufacturing jobs back to Britain, reduce the environmental impact of goods and offer consumers far greater choice but would put major strains on the UK’s legal framework, according to the report from research institute the Big Innovation Centre.
The document argues that the government needs to move fast to introduce a more flexible intellectual property system and to create incentives for investors and designers, but also to regulate to prevent 3D printers being used to produce guns and illegal objects.
Andrew Sissons, report co-author and researcher at the Big Innovation Centre, said: ‘3D printing will shatter the barrier between the internet and the physical world, and the law will no longer be able to distinguish easily between the two.
‘If the government wants to regulate guns and other dangerous items in the age of 3D printing, it will need a radically different approach.’
He said policy makers should learn from the experience of the music industry, where government has sought to enforce outdated copyright laws rather than promote innovation.
‘Manufacturing, the industry that 3D printing will disrupt, is far more important than the music industry and the risks have far more serious implications, so the government cannot afford to ignore these issues for any longer.’
Fellow co-author and researcher Spencer Thompson said: ‘The potential economic implications of the technology are huge; 3D printing will play to the UK’s strengths in design, retail and digital industries, putting Britain in a strong position to be a world leader.
‘It could also shake up the way we do manufacturing, replacing mass production with localised manufacturing and potentially bringing manufacturing jobs back to the UK.
‘From the production of household goods to transplanted organs, the possibilities are endless. The government must not ignore this opportunity to inject some much-needed growth into the UK economy.’
The report, Three dimensional policy: why Britain needs a policy framework for 3D printing, examines what 3D printing markets might look like in the future, outlining how they are likely to be used in homes, 3D printing shops and existing factories with wide-ranging repercussions.
The Big Innovation Centre is a research institution that aims to promote effective innovation and investment in the UK. It is part of the Work Foundation.