Why Security Is Paramount in Blockchain and 3D Printing

Additive manufacturing and blockchain technology are commonly described as disruptive technologies.  Nevertheless, these technologies have created new markets, value networks, and have the potential to displace established market leaders. Blockchain technology allows a direct connection between consumers and suppliers using cryptography to keep exchanges secure. The technology provides a decentralized database or ‘digital ledger’ of transactions. Since everyone in the network can see the transactions, the chain of computers must all approve an exchange before verification and recording. Moreover, additive manufacturing, the process of building 3D objects by adding layer-by-layer of material, is specifically well suited for market penetration due to its shorter product development times, ability for on-demand production, and quick prototyping.

The implications of such significant changes in the marketplace is unfortunately bound to draw attention from adversaries and those with malicious intent. The recent hack of Equifax affecting 143 million users is one prime example why security should be your company’s principal concern when working with these technologies. Data leaks within your company can lead to damaged reputation, lawsuits, loss of customers, and even the loss of your business. Additive manufacturing companies creating critical systems such as jet engines or vehicle motors are at extreme risk for data breaches. Directed attacks at these systems have the potential not only to leak manufacturing information, but also to change the physical properties of manufacturing components. Unsanctioned changes resulting from these attacks lead to weak and unreliable components, endangering human lives. Intellectual property theft and physical damage resulting from poor security protocols can be catastrophic to both your company and the public at large.

PROSTEP, along with companies such as NXP Semiconductors, 3D MicroPrint, AIRBUS, and others, have taken measures to build a secure additive manufacturing framework using blockchain technology through SAMPL (Secure Additive Manufacturing Platform), a consortium project sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). Coordinated by PROSTEP, SAMPL’s aim is to develop a full security solution for additive manufacturing. The security solution would cover the entire manufacturing process from initial creation of 3D print data to exchanging data with 3D print providers and their printers using RFID chips. The process is known as a chain of trust for additive production processes. SAMPL will be based on PROSTEP’s secure data exchange solution, OpenDXM® GlobalX, which has been expanded to include a digital license management facility based on the blockchain technology, in addition to the existing encryption mechanisms.

Industry 4.0 and OPC UA will be the primary standards to exchange certification and licensing data between the rights holder and the recipients. The blockchain technology includes procedures to verify the authenticity of transactions, for example digital payments with Bitcoins. However, it can also be used for issuing licenses to limit the number of prints of a part, where, in place of bitcoin, a printer obtains the license to print a component.

PROSTEP and the SAMPL consortium will continue to solve the challenges of secure additive manufacturing. PROSTEP remains committed to driving innovation and expects the implementation of its secure data exchange platform, OpenDXM® GlobalX to open new markets in additive manufacturing and other areas where product data and licenses must be protected.

Joseph Lopez, PLM Solutions Marketing at PROSTEP INC, a leading vendor-independent PLM consulting company for the discrete manufacturing industry. With 250+ employees throughout and 20+ years of experience, PROSTEP specializes in PLM consultancy services, engineering solutions, and expert implementation in providing leading global manufacturing companies with the support they require for designing and optimizing their internal and cross-enterprise development processes.