It depends on how critical the part is and what kind of performance compromise can happen. So there has to be a threat analysis before you can modify the testing.”
For Gupta everyone along the complex supply chain, from the 3D printer manufacturers themselves to the design engineers that use them, all the way to the manufacturers, are going to have to take some role in addressing these cyber threats.
Gupta himself has co-founded a startup, 3DP Security, focused on identifying and addressing cybersecurity threats associated with 3D printing. The company has identified four key solution areas: embedded tracking to ensure CAD files are not stolen; automatic dimensional control to ensure optimized printing; CAD modeling strategies; and microstructure tagging.
Gupta places the most emphasis on these last two. The idea is that new security features could be embedded into CAD files or the printed products themselves in order to deter counterfeiting and prevent knock-offs or components that have been maliciously tampered with from being used. “We have designed a set of features you can put into a CAD file that will print the part only under a very specific set of conditions,” Gupta said. “If somebody steals that file then the part they create will be defective. So there will be a very clear point of distinguishing a counterfeit from a genuine product.” He also suggested expanding the same technology into creating ID codes (barcodes or QR codes) that can be printed in the parts. “Those codes can be scanned in very specific conditions and you can find out whether the part is genuine.”
Gupta added there is also the possibility of creating materials which have very specific properties like tracer elements so you can use spectroscopy to determine if the right material has been used or not to tell if a part is counterfeit.
All of this is not to say these cybersecurity issues have come out of intentional oversight. Gupta chalks it up to the pace of innovation. “A lot of people didn't have time to think about this problem because these printers are now everywhere,” he said. “The wave came so fast that a lot of companies had to jump into it.”
For Gupta and his team what it may come down to is creating a whole new set of AM standards, or at least augmenting those already in place.
“Protection of these [CAD] files is more important in this field and a lot of people didn't realize because it came into their lives so fast,” Gupta said. “But it's going to catch up. I have no doubt that within a year or two this is going to be among the top priorities for companies that are now getting into AM.”
Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News.