Despite all the logistic benefits of additive manufacturing, including streamlined supply chains, reduced inventory needs and shipment costs, the technology introduces a set of new challenges related to security. Especially in industries where stringent qualifications are needed, security risks—including compromised or stolen part files—must be addressed through sophisticated authentication and protection processes.
As we’ve seen, a handful of companies have come up with software solutions that protect the intellectual property of the digital part. Fewer, however, tackle the issue of counterfeit 3D printed final products (though there are a number of research initiatives looking into how to embed protections into physical parts).
Today, anti-counterfeiting specialist InfraTrac and Belgium-based 3D printing company Aerosint have announced a partnership through which they will seek to improve security in the 3D printing process by combining the former’s novel taggant approach with Aerosint’s multi-material powder bed fusion process.
New Jersey-based InfraTrac has developed an innovative taggant (a uniquely coded chemistry that is near impossible to duplicate) approach that has, up until now, not been applicable to powder bed additive manufacturing technologies. This incompatibility was caused simply by the fact that SLS and SLM systems are based on single material technologies. Aerosint, however, has developed the first multi-powder SLS 3D printer that makes it possible to leverage InfraTrac’s advanced security solution.
To kick off the partnership, Aerosint is producing simple demonstrator parts from polymer and metal that integrate “fingerprinting” sites that are based on a powder formulation developed by InfraTrac. Once printed, the sample parts will be tested and evaluated by InfraTrac to assess the viability of its taggant process for scalable part authentication.
InfraTrac’s security approach embeds compatible chemicals as taggants during the print process, hiding them in a “small covert sport for additional deterrence.” The special tagging model enables InfraTrac to leverage millions of taggant combinations with open supply chain options. One of the main limitations of applying the approach to additive manufacturing up until now has been that it relies on a multi-material process.
Aerosint, as our readers will likely know, is developing a selective powder deposition system that utilizes voxel-level control to enable multi-powder printing. In short, Aerosint has developed a special recoater that enables the precise placement of two or more powdered materials on a single layer.
“Metal or polymer components built using an SLS/SLM system equipped with Aerosint’s recoater can contain InfraTrac-traceable materials embedded at specific sites within the part,” Aerosint explains. “As these taggant materials can be made visually identical to the part’s bulk material, counterfeiting is virtually impossible and part sourcing authenticity can be ensured to the highest degree of confidence.”
The subtle but sophisticated approach could enable manufacturers to 3D print parts that, in addition to being protected on the digital level by software solutions, could also have anti-counterfeiting properties embedded into their final part structure.
According to InfraTrac, the approach is far more effective than overt and covert brand protection approaches—which can be thwarted by counterfeiters rather easily. Thanks to recent advances in photonics, sophisticated forensic approaches have become increasingly accessible, making it possible to identify authentic products with high-quality security measures.