Weinberg Seeks Information On Proprietary 3D Printer Materials

By on June 23rd, 2020 in Corporate

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The Jefferson Building, home of the US Library of Congress [Source: Carol M. Highsmith – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0]

Michael Weinberg is seeking information from the public on 3D printers that employ various mechanisms to ensure the use of proprietary materials.

Weinberg is well known in the 3D print community as one of the leaders ensuring that US legislation does permit proper use of 3D printers, as well as other legal aspects of 3D printing. He’s worked on the legal aspects of proprietary 3D print materials previously.

Now he’s into that topic again, and for a good reason. Apparently the US government reviews their policies in this matter every three years, and that period is now about to expire. As a result, Weinberg wants to ensure things proceed in the best interests of 3D printer operators.

Specifically the rule, established in 2017, said:

”Computer programs that operate 3D printers that employ microchip-reliant technological measures to limit the use of feedstock, when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of using alternative feedstock and not for the purpose of accessing design software, design files, or proprietary data.”

This definition created an exemption for this type of equipment to be modified to allow for use of third party materials, rather than be required to use only the original equipment manufacturer’s materials.

Proprietary 3D Print Materials

Proprietary 3D print material systems are used by certain 3D printer manufacturers for two reasons.

First, by restricting the type of material they can control the precise chemistry of the materials and thus enable extremely fine print parameter tuning. In most cases, this results in very high quality 3D prints with almost no effort by the 3D printer operator. It also enables 3D printer operators to be instantly productive on the equipment.

Secondly, it’s used as a revenue stream, as the materials are typically priced at least a small amount higher than similar third party options. However, in some cases the prices for the proprietary materials were set outrageously high. In either case, price increases are unreasonable unless the print quality is provided as above.

The downside of proprietary materials is that the choice of materials is severely restricted. While there may be fabulous new materials appearing on the market, you normally would not be able to use them on a proprietary 3D printer.

US Government 3D Printer Exemption

Weinberg helped obtain the exemption that allowed 3D printer operators to bypass the Digital Rights Management rules to allow use of third party materials on the devices.

One of Weinberg’s goals is to ensure the exemption is renewed, although he may face some challenge from certain 3D printer manufacturers who may protest. However, by doing so they simply reveal their quest to gain the extra revenue.

A good approach to this dilemma is that used by Formlabs, who have a proprietary materials system for their Form 2 and Form 3 machines, but also include an “experimental mode” that can be switched on by the operator. This allows any 3D print material to be used in the device, although the operator must then perform the parameter tuning on their own.

Another goal for Weinberg is to focus on a segment of the previous exemption that mentions microchips. It’s possible some 3D printers don’t use microchips to enforce proprietary material, and he’s interested in finding out which machines do this. He says:

“The question this time around is if there are technologies used to limit the source of 3D printing material that do not fall within that definition. In other words, are there technologies that do not rely on microchips to verify the source of the printing material? If there are, we can use them as evidence for eliminating the caveat. If there are not, we can just ask for a renewal of the existing rule.”

Weinberg asks the 3D print community to contribute anything known about this type of equipment:

“Please email me at [email protected] or dm me on twitter @mweinberg2D.”

Do you know of any 3D printers that use alternative types of protection mechanisms? If so, please contact Weinberg with details.

Via Michael Weinberg

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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