3D printing: Blockchain locks copycats out

June 26, 2017 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Additive printing – aka 3D printing – offers numerous benefits such as manufacturing on customer location, making transport and storage unnecessary. However, components created in with 3D printing technology can easily be imitated and forged by unauthorized persons. Scientists from the University of Ulm (Germany) together with partners have developed a technique to protect intellectual property of such products that is based on the blockchain technology.

Unauthorized reproduction of parts does not only constitute of copyrights, it also can represent a safety risk, in particular in cases where the parts are intended for use in aviation, automotive and medical applications. The SAMPL (Secure Additive Manufacturing Platform) project provides a solution: Together with partners from industry and the research community, computer scientists from the Ulm University’s Institute of Distributed Systems are developing a model of digital rights management based on the blockchain technology.

Application examples for 3D printing are many: thanks to this technology, for example, aircraft builders can produce spare parts for standardized digital kits all over the world. And patients benefit as well: in a few hours they can get a custom-made prosthesis from the 3D printer. But how can cheap, partly security-critical robbery be prevented and identified? The research group has linked two known methods to a continuous safety chain for additive manufacturing processes using 3D printing and the blockchain concept. "We want to use the blockchain to mediate between designers, print service providers and end users, thus making license management safer - from generating print data to the exchange with service providers and the marking of workpieces, for example by means of RFID chips," explain Felix Engelmann and Henning Kopp, scientists at the Ulm Institute for Distributed Systems.

For the project SAMPL, the partner company Prostep AG provides a data exchange solution, in which the blockchain-based license management is to be integrated. The blockchain concept, used in the crypto currency Bitcoin is known. It is based on a huge database that runs on many interlinked computers. The information contained in this database - which can be financial transactions as well as product blueprints or usage data - is stored invariably in interconnected blocks. These blocks are accessible to all users, which makes it possible to understand which data was processed on which devices. Abuse thus immediately becomes apparent. In the music industry, this