Why 3D Printing and Blockchain Would be a Perfect Match

Today, 3D printing seems to be quite common, but it’s still a complex technique, where problems, such as security risks, can occur. If this technology wants to get ahead of its those issues, the best way would be to adopt another innovation: blockchain.

3D printing seems to be widespread and popular these days, but it’s important to remember that it’s a complex technique that still continues to evolve and thus can cause some problems in the process. Researches have already shown that 3D printing has a growing need for cybersecurity: a study from New York’s Tandon School of Engineering revealed that there are security issues around 3D printing that could present significant safety hazards due to counterfeit parts or products being deliberately printed with hidden failures. So what could be more obvious than the use of one of the techniques that everyone is talking about?

Blockchain, a continuously expandable list of data sets, which are linked together by cryptographic methods, has the potential to solve the security risks before they become a major issue.

The Stages and Issues of 3D Printing

But what are the issues that can occur? The process of 3D printing includes several stages: from concept, to CAD file, to the generated design and the actual 3D print. After the post print process follows the support – if it’s needed. All these steps represent a kind of vulnerability in which a 3D print can be corrupted or even stolen, putting company’s intellectual property at risk. At this point, however, it should be mentioned that there can be problems here, but not necessarily. 3D printing is still a great technology that is powerful and has great potential in many sectors.

At this year’s Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show, Jack Heslin, president of 3D Tech Talks, states that the technology is going to demand the security afforded by blockchain, i.e. as 3D printing becomes cheaper, easier, faster and more ubiquitous:

“The digital thread of manufacturing has vulnerabilities. Design files can be stolen or hacked,” Heslin said. “I’m not saying it’s happening right now, or it’s easy to do, but it is a concern.”

How Blockchain Could Help

So, how can blockchain help at this point? Blockchain works by creating a distributed, encrypted ledger across any number of parties that can be used to verify not only identities but also the status of any particular job. That means that every unit involved in any stage of the 3D printing process is aware of what all the others are doing at any time in a safe and secure manner. Since a blockchain is decentralized, stealing or altering a 3D printed file from a blockchain is not about tricking a single computer or printer. You’d have to hack every unit that was a part of that particular chain, which is exponentially more difficult and, from a realistic point of view, impossible. As a result blockchain is an audit trail. It shows every edit and iteration in the process. Furthermore, because the audit trail is decentralized it becomes immutable and cannot be erased.

And the good news is: Companies have been working on the integration of Blockchain in 3D printing for some time. In 2017 General Electrics (GE) filed a patent for an additive manufacturing system that is an AM device configured to implement a distributed ledger system. Wherein the distributed ledger is a blockchain ledger. The basic premise of the system is to use blockchain to identify as well as to verify builds and the authors of those builds in an AM system.

Wipro, an IT company based in India, is developing a blockchain system for AM specifically targeted at fighting IP theft. As the company’s website states:

“Blockchain can help set up such small independent value chain to make the production processes nimbler. The smart contracting application can ease out the transactions to assure integrity of product history, production process details, ownership and much more. It will also help to locate the most feasible printing facility and reduce the negotiation time regarding price, date of availability etc. At last the blockchain would capture the digital trail of the product, with details such as the type of raw material used, the source of raw material, production parameters, technical specifications, where it was manufactured, how it was stored and maintained etc.”

What do you think about the idea of using blockchain in 3D printing? We would be happy to hear your opinion in the comment section.