There's no doubting that the future lies in 3D printing - and it was everywhere you looked at HANNOVER MESSE 2017. But so were warnings of the risks attached to additive manufacturing processes, such as the potential for unauthorized replicas. The response of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) has been to sponsor a project called SAMPL (Secure Additive Manufacturing Platform) to the tune of 2.6 million euros for three years. Besides Ulm University and PROSTEP AG, experts are also involved from the University of Hamburg, Hamburg University of Technology, the Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nanosystems (ENAS), NXP Semiconductors GmbH, consider it GmbH and industrial 3D printer supplier 3D Microprint GmbH and associate partner AIRBUS Operation GmbH. Their aim now is to develop a model for digital rights administration based on the kind of blockchain technology used for Bitcoin cryptocurrency.
The research group has succeeded in fusing the two well-known processes of 3D printing and the blockchain concept to form an end-to-end security chain for additive manufacturing processes. Felix Engelmann and Henning Kopp, assistant lecturers at Ulm University's Institute of Distributed Systems, explain what the group hopes to achieve: "We want to use blockchain to mediate between designers, printing service providers and end customers and thus make license management more secure - from the creation of the printing data and sharing it with service providers right through to labeling the workpieces, for example with RFID chips." Partner company PROSTEP is supplying the SAMPL project with a data exchange solution that is to incorporate blockchain license management. The team in charge of demonstrating SAMPL at HANNOVER MESSE reported that the concept, which ensures the authenticity of product data during the 3D printing process, went down a storm. "We already know that the basic concept works, but we still have to minimize the areas exposed to attack," says Professor Frank Kargl, the Director of the Institute of Distributed Systems who specializes in security and privacy. He also explains that they have to take care that one of the concept's strengths - its transparency - does not become its Achilles heel. After all, not all designers want their competitors to see which spare parts they are ordering, for example. The SAMPL research group is therefore now working on developing a prudent means of anonymizing information as part of the blockchain concept. This new process should be ready for the market in as little as around two years, so if you’re planning to attend HANNOVER MESSE 2019, keep your eyes peeled!