Manufacturing companies are quickly adopting additive manufacturing technology in production for unique and low volume parts and, increasingly, for replacement parts. It may become routine, at some point in the foreseeable future, for a company to send an additive manufacturing control program to a customer in a remote location so they can “print” their own replacement part rather than having to fabricate the part at the plant then ship it to the remote location.
As with any technology that touches the Internet, or may touch the Internet, data security is a concern. It is easily conceivable that the control files for additive manufacturing printers, stored where they can be accessed by connected machines, are vulnerable as well as any files actually transferred over the Internet or through a local network that has outside access capability.
And, as with any other data, the data owners must be aware of threats that could compromise the data and/or the devices, or simply have access to proprietary data when they shouldn’t.
Intellectual property protection could be a major concern that goes beyond the physical security and technical security measures to keep out intruders. Your company may, at some point, choose to share those digital files with partners, contractors, or customers so they can produce your proprietary designs on their own additive manufacturing devices. It’s easy to see how transmitting design file to a contact manufacturer for production would be a convenient time-saver. Likewise, sending the design file to a remote customer location so they can produce their own replacement part in less time than it would take for you to sip the part to them would be of great benefit in getting the customer’s installed equipment back into service quickly.
In these circumstances, the need to protect that Intellectual Property is distributed along with the data file. There is really no recourse other than to send the data only to partners that you can trust to properly handle and protect it and back that up with solid contracts and significant incentives.
There is the possibility that these files can be created in such a way that they function for only a one-time use. That capability is not in current use and may not actually exist at this time. But even if/when it does exist, that does not completely solve the problem because one-time-use files would have limited application – not appropriate for a contract manufacturer, for example – and are subject to hacking that might be able to break the restriction.
Fortunately, this is not a new issue and people have been working on solutions ever since the threat was first identified. Unfortunately, the invaders are working just as hard to try to thwart or bypass any and all controls that are erected to keep them out. Security and access control are big business. And there’s nothing particularly unique about additive manufacturing’s data and content that falls outside of the ongoing battle to maintain secure systems. The best advice is to continue to maintain diligent attention to security matters, employ the best and latest security systems, keep them up-to-date at all times, and maintain sound security measures throughout your organization. Many security breaches result from user mistakes or oversights. Be sure that all employees are trained and motivated to uphold proper procedures and safeguards.
Editor’s Note: Register for our 3DEXPERIENCE FORUM 2019, taking place May 13-16 at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, to learn more about how manufacturing companies are adopting and utilizing data security for additive manufacturing.