3D printing: Blockchain locks copycats out
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 process is already being used for licensing and the interest is also great in traditional finance.
At the past Hannover Fair, the research group presented a demonstrator to illustrate their concept which met with lively interest. “We already know that the concept works, but still have to minimize the attack area,” says Professor Frank Kargl, who heads the Institute for Distributed Systems and is primarily focusing on security and privacy. Moreover, the strength of the concept, in particular its transparency, could turn into a weakness. An example: Not all designers want their competitors to see which spare parts they order. It is therefore necessary to offer a form of anonymization within the framework of the blockchain concept. The new process will be ready for the market in about two years.
In addition to the University of Ulm and Prostep AG (coordinator), the University of Hamburg and the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg as well as the Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nanosystems (ENAS) are involved in the SAMPL project. In addition, NXP Semiconductors GmbH and consider it GmbH as well as the provider of industrial 3D printers 3D Microprint GmbH. Airbus Operation GmbH is an associated partner.
SAMPL is sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi) for a period of three years with 2.6 million euros.