Current discussion on legal and technical aspects at the Association of German Engineers – part 2

Current discussion on legal and technical aspects at the Association of German Engineers – part 2

In this article an insight is given into the work of the technical committee 105.5 (FA 105.5) named ‘Legal Aspects of Additive Manufacturing’, which was formed within The Association of German Engineers (Verein Deutscher Ingenieure or ‘VDI’) in 2016. This technical committee is comprised of legal experts, engineers, technicians, scientists and company managers working in the sector of advanced manufacturing. Jointly, they analyse technical challenges as well as processes in the value chain of additive manufacturing with regard to legal implications that accompany production. This is part two in a series of three. Here you can read part one.

By Klaus M. Brisch, LL.M. and Marco Müller-ter Jung, LL.M., DWF Germany 

Targets of the Technical Committee ‘Legal Aspects’

In 2014, a technical discussion arose concerning the legal implications which result from the comprehensive digitalisation of process chains and the growing client-specific manufacturing of individual products in connection with additive manufacturing processes. They concluded there was a continuing need for action and further discussions.

Subsequently, the first meeting of the newly-established technical committee ‘Legal Aspects of Additive Manufacturing Processes’, a subgroup of the VDI technical committee 105 ‘Additive Manufacturing’, took place on 8 March 2016.

The chairman of this committee is Dipl.-Ing. Stefan Kleszczynski (Chair of Manufacturing Technology, University Duisburg-Essen), vice chairman is Marco Müller-ter Jung, LL.M., lawyer at the international law firm, DWF, and co-author of this series of legal articles.

The objectives of the technical committee are to promote a mutual understanding regarding concepts and methods between lawyers and engineers, as well as to identify legally relevant technical issues. This refers to describing technical concepts and agreements and recommendations for action. Thus, the committee seeks to develop recommendations to promote legal clarity in the use of additive manufacturing processes in the industrial field.

Insofar, lawyers, engineers, experts from manufacturers of additive manufacturing facilities, industrial customers of the technique, as well as representatives of service providers, universities and research institutes continue to jointly analyse the additive manufacturing processes from various technical and legal angles, taking into account that additive manufacturing processes have changed well-established processes of product development and manufacturing and thus led to different client and supplier relationships as well as new business models. Consequently, the VDI technical committee 105.5 is the central interface of legal and technical implications accompanying additive manufacturing processes.

Technical Issues for Discussion in the Technical Committee 105.5

The technical discussions show that additive manufacturing influences established processes of product development and manufacturing leading to different and sometimes new business models. For example, additive manufacturing enhances the possibility of single-item production or individual customising. In addition, additive manufacturing enables companies to produce individual items or products specifically adapted to customer needs as long as the respective construction data is available.

This leads to differences and substantial variations in the steps of the value chains of different products, meaning that all potential steps of the chain need to be legally analysed even though the implications resulting from the analysis do not apply to each step equally.

In this context, another essential aspect arises differentiating additive manufacturing processes from conventional manufacturing processes when considering the processes on a technical-legal basis: the complexity is substantially increased due to the potential number of contributors to the value chain or process chain. The collaboration between the individual contributors such as engineers, CAD-designers, suppliers of materials, manufacturers of facilities, service providers and customers as well as their rights and obligations might vary from one product to another and from one production process to another. This all leads to the challenge of identifying the variety of possible constellations and assessing them on a legal basis according to their similarities but also according to their potential distinctions in any given case.

Another issue for discussion in above-mentioned technical committee is the consideration of the data-technical process chain. This chain shows how data is collected and/or generated (e.g. by construction, digitalisation or reverse engineering) and how it is processed and finally used. At this stage, it is important to properly differentiate between processes, data types and data formats and interfaces.

For lawyers, it is essential to understand the data flow and data exchange within the whole value chain. From collecting or generating data to finally using the data in the actual production step in the manufacturing facility, the data might have been converted several times. Questions such as to what extent the data or its formats have changed or if and to what extent the conversion and optimisation of data have influenced the characteristics and the quality of the component needs to be examined from a legal perspective. Should there be a faulty product at the end of the process chain, then the cause of failure needs to be clarified: What technical requirement led to what change in data during the value chain and how was it assured and documented that these conversion had no influence on the quality of the product? Frequent conversions increase the risk of losing data and information quality.

With regard to this problem, the technical discussion pays special attention to existing physical backup methods and technical solutions for traceability, e.g. by using FRID-Chips or marking components with QR-codes; this also deals with technical methods used to proof flawless data and production processes over the whole life cycle.

Furthermore, the committee discusses solutions on a codified basis ensuring the exchange of data within the process chain and between its numerous contributors.

It is also important that lawyers and engineers gain a joint knowledge of the selection and handling of material used for the production. Who is choosing the appropriate material for the actual product for the specific manufacturing facility used? It could be the customer, the engineer, designer, translator of the CAD-file, the manufacturer of the facility, or the service provider. Therefore, it is essential that interactions throughout the processes are considered and analysed since there are direct interdependencies between technical construction, the facility and the material used in order to manufacture the components successfully.

The third and final part of this article will appear online in week 33.