April fool prank: Amazon acquiring Shapeways points towards a bigger problem in 3D Printing.

One of the media networks recently pranked about the acquisition of Shapeways by AWS. Although a fairly good April fool’s joke, it does incite questions around the security of CAD designs. As 3D Printing continues to find both industrial and consumer applications, the threat of altered or compromised data subsequently heightens.

Before we highlight the problems and analyse probable solutions dealing with the security of 3D CAD data, it is important that we understand what 3D CAD data is, why it needs to be shared, and why it needs to be secured!

CAD stands for Computer-Aided Design. CAD uses the computer system to create, modify, analyse, and optimize a design in the form of electronic files for manufacturing processes. CAD Data Exchange is used to translate and exchange data with suppliers and customers. Transfer of data is necessary because one organisation may not be solely responsible for the development of the entire design. These 3D CAD files are highly confidential as these are the future business opportunities for companies.

Image Source: remcad.com

Securing crucial information related to customers, users, or businesses has always been a matter of concern. The recent allegations aimed at Facebook for leaking data to Cambridge Analytica heightens the concern of data security even further. More than 87 million people were caught in this Facebook data leak. After assessing the data, Facebook announced that it is updating its terms of service and data policy to make them easier to understand and to include certain privacy commitments. Seeing how Facebook data got breached affecting millions of people, data security concerning cloud manufacturing cannot be taken lightly!

The manufacturing industry has never considered hacking of any crucial data as a major threat, probably due to its tradition and belief that the most important thing in manufacturing is the cost of the part and its quality. Security is secondary. Because up until recently, for them, terms like data hacking and cyber security were only meant to be found in the dictionary of the IT industry.

Currently, for prototyping and low volume production sourcing, 3D CAD files are shared over e-mail, which results in theft and duplication of files as well. Because obviously, you, I, and all of us can access files over e-mail.

So what steps can be taken to prevent a serious attack or data breach?

  1. First vital step to be taken is to not underestimate the possibility of an insider threat. Changing passwords regularly is not the only solution. Just how changing security guards won’t help in reduction of thefts if there is no comprehensive plan to guard the society. Similarly, in manufacturing industry, it is more important to develop a security plan.
  2. Second solution could be to integrate advanced manufacturing technologies like 3D Printing to cloud computing. Instead of collecting parts from vendors or developing parts in one’s factories and then selling them, customers could themselves upload the CAD designs through a cloud based application. Companies could then simply print these designs and ship them back. This not only provides data security, but also makes the manufacturing process easier and accessible by bringing it to each individual’s phone and tablet. From customizing your sneakers to your clothes, 3D printing enables you to make anything that you want.
  3. 3MF Document format shall be used as a 3D CAD extension. The 3D Manufacturing Format (3MF) is a 3D printing format that is complete, secure, human readable, simple, extensible, unambiguous, and free. The 3MF Document format MUST use a ZIP archive for its physical model. The Open Packaging specification describes a packaging model, that is, how the package is represented internally with parts and relationships. *.3mf extension is believed to be more secure and can be handled over cloud.

Image Source: 3D Systems

Chizel is one of the pioneers in India, building online cloud computing software that provides instant manufacturing data without sharing the file and hence saving chances of theft. The entire software is built over cloud which is highly secured as compared to the e-mail services. Going forward we could very well see an integration of blockchain technology with advanced manufacturing processes like 3D Printing to further tighten the security of critical files and data.

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