3D Printing Technology – Advantages and Risks

3D Printing Technology – Advantages and Risks

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3D printing is a new emerging technology with applications at the civilian and military production. However, it has some cybersecurity and other implications that require further consideration.

In additive manufacturing (AM), commonly called 3D printing, a computer sends the software containing a product design to one or more printers, which builds the product, in ultra-thin layers, from many kinds of materials — plastics, metals, drugs, paints and even human tissue.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently certified the first 3D-printed part for GE commercial jet engines, and companies like Ford Motor Company are using AM to build products and prototypes.

But there are several hazards stemming from this technology. According to 3ders.org, enterprise 3D printing has been included in the 10 at-risk technologies detailed by the Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) Division of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University recent report.  

Risk and Insurance points to defective and counterfeit product exposures that might arise for all participants along the manufacturing continuum.

From the aspect of cyber security, Homeland Security Newswire says the new technology poses some of the same dangers unearthed in the electronics industry, where trusted, partially trusted, and untrusted parties are part of a global supply chain. This is according to findings reported by an NYU team of cybersecurity and materials engineers.

The researchers examined two aspects of 3D printing that have cybersecurity implications: printing orientation and insertion of fine defects. “These are possible foci for attacks that could have a devastating impact on users of the end product, and economic impact in the form of recalls and lawsuits,” said researcher Nikhil Gupta. Additive manufacturing builds a product from a computer assisted design (CAD) file sent by the designer. The researchers reported that the orientation of the product during printing could make as much as a 25% difference in its strength.

However, since CAD files do not give instructions for printer head orientation, malefactors could deliberately alter the process without detection.

Another researcher pointed out that “with the growth of cloud-based and decentralized production environments, it is critical that all entities within the additive manufacturing supply chain be aware of the unique challenges presented to avoid significant risk to the reliability of the product.” An attacker could hack into a printer that is connected to Internet to introduce internal defects as the component is being printed. “New cybersecurity methods and tools are required to protect critical parts from such compromise,” he said.

When the researchers introduced sub-millimeter defects between printed layers, they found that the defects were undetectable by common industrial monitoring techniques, such as ultrasonic imaging, which do not require destruction of the sample. Over time, materials can weaken with exposure to fatigue conditions, heat, light, and humidity and become more susceptible to these small defects.