3D printing may seem like a concept out of a science fiction film, but some could say it is changing the entire manufacturing industry. The additive manufacturing technique is the process of printing layers of material on top of one another to create a product, which relies on computer-aided design (CAD) files.
The number of printing materials available is constantly growing and currently includes thermoplastics, edible materials, rubber, porcelain, metal and even human tissue.
Printers that were originally used just for prototyping began to be used to print manufacturing materials, such as car components. Today, companies in a variety of industries, including architecture, construction, motor, engineering and biotechnology are experimenting with using 3D printing to manufacture end products.
This innovative practice comes with its share of benefits and risks.
- Less waste—Unlike more traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques that remove material by cutting or sawing to form a product, 3D printing builds the product from the ground up, resulting in a significantly lesser amount of material waste.
- Reduced overhead cost—Printing materials and a CAD file are all that is required to create a product. Removing the need to purchase moulds, create custom manufacturing materials or hire labourers.
- Complex details—Almost any shape can be printed using additive manufacturing, including shapes that would be costly and difficult to create with subtractive manufacturing due to their complexity.
- Reduced warehousing costs—Offering long-term warranties for replacement parts is much more efficient for companies that utilise 3D printing. The company can simply save a CAD file for each product part and then print the part on an as-needed basis instead of storing older parts in a warehouse.
3D printers can churn out toys, clothing and even food. But the technology also shows potential for use in industrial sabotage, researchers have warned. And hackers with access to 3D printers could attack.
A cyber-attack could have “devastating impacts” for the products end users, as well as leading to product recalls and costly lawsuits.
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, cyber criminals could deliberately alter the process without detection. This could be life-threatening if defective components were printed out for cars or airplanes.
If that happens, companies should be on the watch for possible misuse. Many 3D printers are connected to the internet, allowing remote access. Hackers could target 3D printers and introduce internal defects in the manufacturing process without detection. This risk of sabotage could also be enhanced if the manufacturer chooses to use a less trustworthy outsourced partner.
- Copyright infringement—CAD files that infringe on patents and design rights are already beginning to show up on the Internet. The piracy of digital design files will likely be widespread and difficult to police. Companies will need to insure themselves against this risk and find innovative ways to guard intellectual property.
- Compromised supply chain—Widely available CAD files means that compromised parts could enter the supply chain. Even if a company is not using 3D printing in its own operations, it is still at risk of manufacturing products with defective or unsafe 3D-printed components, and of being held liable for the resulting damage.
- Public safety—Currently, no legislation exists to regulate 3D printing, so anyone, anywhere can download anything. In 2012, a US company created a CAD file for a 3D-printable working gun. It was downloaded by more than 100,000 people around the world before being taken down. 3D printing offers more opportunities for obtaining banned products.
- Ultrafine particles (UFPs)—A study was performed by a group of researchers from the Illinois Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Lyon, France, in which it was discovered that 3D printers can potentially release one to four times the number of normal UFPs found in the air before printing begins. Without proper ventilation, these tiny particles can be inhaled by workers and possibly cause a myriad of health issues for them in the future. The amount of risk can depend on what materials are being used to build the 3D-printed objects, but since this is such a new discovery, the extent of damage that these particles can cause is relatively unknown.
- Cyber security risks – In the Journal of the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (JOM) cyber security and materials engineers at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, examined two aspects of 3D printing that have cyber security implications: printing orientation and insertion of fine defects. These are possible motivations for attacks that could have a devastating impact on users of the end product, and economic impact in the form of recalls and lawsuits for manufacturers. 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, cyber criminals could deliberately alter the process without detection. The additive manufacturing supply chain be aware of the unique challenges presented to avoid significant risk to the reliability of the product.
Like any technology, 3D printing is not without risks, many of which are yet to be discovered. Despite these risks, companies such as BMW and Rolls Royce are already utilising 3D printing technology and are reconsidering processes and improve business operations.
Industry experts predict that 3D printing will transform manufacturing as we know it. Exciting projects like rebuilding coral reefs, building cars and replicating priceless artefacts for scientific study will continue to capture the attention of the public and encourage further innovation.
And the security risks of Internet-connected printers go beyond the manufacturing itself. Given that 3D printers rely on design files; a breach could compromise a company’s intellectual property and reputation.
To prevent the security risks, it has been recommended that manufacturers disconnect their 3D printers from the Internet and encrypt their design files. By complicating design files and encrypting the file so only the designated 3D printer l would know how to read them. It could prevent high-risk breaches and sabotage.
If you would like to know more about how cyber liability insurance and cyber security can protect your business. Call us today on 0121 764 5500 to speak to one of our insurance experts.