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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Hidden Risk of Making End-Use Products with Additive Manufacturing (AM) – and How to Fix It

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3D Printing Modern AM machines can produce end-use quality production parts in materials such as thermoplastics, polyamides, polystyrenes, composites and metals, and even combinations of materials in a single part. Modern software tools such as Generative Design and Topology Optimization help define shapes beyond what a person might envision or create using a CAD system, yet can easily be produced using AM techniques. So, what’s stopping more companies converting from traditional expensive dedicated tooling methods of manufacture, to AM? There are many barriers to making the switch, including repeatability, quality, time, cost, and education on how to design for AM, all of which are steadily being addressed, but there’s another reason which isn’t so obvious: RISK.

Risk in AM is present in two main forms:

  1. Corporate governance: Corporate governance of the AM lifecycle is only possible if the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system is “AM unaware.” This means all AM design and manufacturing knowledge, human decisions, machine settings, material choices, and best practices are under management by the PLM system, so that knowledge accumulated from job to job becomes an ever-expanding corporate IP asset, rather than remaining only in the minds of a few key individuals who were involved in the AM process at that time. Without AM governance, corporate IP walks out the door every day.
  2. Cyber-attack: We hear frequent announcements of cyber-attacks on financial institutions and online retailers, and even political elections, which means confidential individual and consumer information is accessed by someone unauthorized to obtain it. But did you know that the number one infrastructure sector of critical cyber-attacks as reported by *Department of Homeland Security in 2015 is manufacturing?

peopleYes, manufacturing systems get hacked far more frequently than finance, defense, or government facilities. The really serious issue relating to AM is that, unlike stealing a CAD model intended for traditional manufacturing, a design file intended for AM production carries 2 complete digital assets: Geometry and Material recipe. Someone obtaining an AM digital design asset can replicate that part many times to any location and can make real parts on an ongoing basis, provided they have only an AM machine with material to feed into it.

So, are manufacturers taking steps to protect against cyber-attacks and are they using professional, secure systems to maintain AM information? One would assume they must be, since manufacturing is the most attacked industrial sector, and as more and more AM end-use parts are made… but the reality is concerning.

A poll taken by CIMdata in May 2017 posed the question: “What do you use to manage AM part data today?” Respondents confirmed that 25% use a PDM system, 37% use Windows folders, and 38% use nothing at all. This means that 75% of respondents use nothing or minimally secure systems. Additionally, considerable AM parts are made using contracted service providers who exchange AM design information outside the firewall over the public internet. A possible explanation of how this situation came about is that AM is in transition from making single one-off prototypes, where a few people manually control all aspects of design and production processes, to AM being pioneered for end-use production parts. Rigorous processes and IT systems management haven’t caught up yet because volumes of AM parts are low, and the investment to enable systems to fully manage the AM part lifecycle, relatively large.


So, where do we go from here?

  1. Corporate governance:
    • Define formal AM workflows spanning ideation to final production and post-processing
    • Build AM workflows with rules, roles, permissions, and states into a PLM system
    • Ensure all AM validation print trials are fully recorded using closed loop processes to capture all changes, settings, measurements and decisions.
  2. Cyber-attack:
    • Implement encryption or Digital Rights Management (DRM) to limit access and AM file lifespan
    • Ensure your IT department provides full corporate governance as they would for other mission-critical application, such as procurement or payroll
    • Bring AM production in house, behind the firewall, rather than outsourced to third party AM service provider

The leading industrial sector implementing AM for production end-use parts is Aerospace and Defense (A&D). Government departments and contractor companies serving the A&D industry make military drones, fighter jets, and weapons such as Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. A hostile nation is potentially capable of compromising inadequate IT security systems, and having stolen critical AM design files, becoming capable of replicating those parts or possibly subverting the original equipment manufacturer.

In these days of widespread globally distributed manufacturing, engineering collaboration, and cyber-attacks, it’s essential to take both corporate governance and security seriously.

Let me know what you think.

Also, plan to join me for a webinar on the topic of designing for additive manufacturing on September 14 – learn more and register at:


[*Manufacturing is the #1 infrastructure sector impacted by critical cyber-attacks. Source: Department of Homeland Security, National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team. See page 17, “Incidents by Sector.”]


James White

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