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U.S. manufacturing companies have taken strides in improving their production capabilities. However, few U.S. manufacturing businesses have taken the steps in using new methods for producing their goods. Recent advances in 3D printing technology give manufacturers the ability to overcome many obstacles, including resource waste, shipping, and cost of creation. These advances help businesses simplify their supply chain and return more jobs to the United States. We will cover in this article the recent advances in 3D printing technology, the benefits of using 3D printing technology, and discuss how manufacturing businesses are using 3D printing today.

The Future is Now

As we move into the 4th industrial revolution, 3D printing has opened new opportunities for U.S manufacturers. Many manufacturers in the automotive, industrial, and medical industries already incorporate 3D printing in many development and production processes. Automotive manufacturers use 3D printing when creating prototypes for testing parts used in newer models. For industrial manufacturing companies, 3D printing reduces the number of molds needed, effectively lowering the cost of development and production of new products. 3D printing has vastly improved the medical manufacturing industry by decreasing the time required to develop products that must be custom fit. Such applications currently exist for creating custom prosthetic limbs, footwear inserts, and casts

Not Just Plastic

While 3D printing has been around since the 1980s, the widespread commercial availability did not happen until 2007. During this time, most 3D printers were only able to use spools of plastic filament. Today, not only have the size of 3D printers have drastically gotten smaller, but new filaments and materials are available to use. Smaller components that need to stretch or have elastic properties use TPE or TPU based filament. In contrast, parts that need to be durable use a metal or carbon fiber filament. Another version on 3D printing uses a resin that hardens when exposed to UV light. 3D printers that use UV sensitive resin are often slower and are limited to fewer filament types. However, UV resin 3D printers are better at creating higher resolution models used for prototyping new products. Recently, manufacturers are experimenting with different methods of 3D printing with metal. With various ways of printing with varying materials of metal, manufacturers can further expand the potential products their business can create.

3D printing station at a factory3D printing is helping manufactures reduce the cost of resources and reduce their reliance on third-party suppliers.

Benefits of 3D Printing for Manufacturing

3D printing has helped manufacturing businesses not only reduce the cost of resources by wasting less, but ease the reliance of third party suppliers within a supply chain. An example of this can come from the perspective of a manufacturer that creates metal car parts. In a typical production environment, the manufacturer will have to make multiple molds for different versions of a product. With 3D printing, manufacturers can review the design within the preferred software and print when all parties are satisfied. Another benefit of using 3D printing is that there is little to no material wasted to create multiple versions of a product or ship molds from one supplier to another.

Businesses Using 3D Printing Today

Beyond the potential for manufacturing businesses to incorporate 3D printing into their capabilities, many manufacturing businesses primarily focus on providing 3D printing services to other companies. Voodoo Manufacturing, a 3D printing centered company located in Brooklyn, New York, uses over 200 3D printers to fulfill various orders. Another manufacturing business that not only took an interest in 3D printing, but began developing its technologies to improve future capabilities in 3D printing technology, is General Electric (also known as GE). They have created a facility in Ohio that focuses on manufacturing 3D-printed components for their aviation engines and systems. After comparing the cost and efficiency between the two processes, GE had found 3D printing to be cheaper and more efficient. In the past, GE would have the metal components milled from blocks of aluminum. The milling process was wasteful as there were leftover resources, and defective parts lead to more significant wastes of resources. 3D printing products would always meet functional expectations while also only using the resources needed for the component.

3D Printing Security Concerns

While 3D printing or additive manufacturing has become popular over the past few years, many security experts have begun to express their concerns. Depending on the field, these devices may hold valuable personal or confidential data. Hospitals that use additive manufacturing for prosthetics or casts may run into issues with HIPPA, as patient information stored on those machines is considered insecure. Businesses that rely on rapid prototyping for creating models of new products could face theft of intellectual property if hackers can access the model files. Similar to Internet of Things (IoT) devices, many 3D printers are accessible over the internet. This capability, while useful to some, can negatively impact the security of unknowing businesses. Common security flaws such as weak or well-known username and password combinations can allow hackers access to your network.

Keyboard with a security keyJust like other types of production equipment, 3D printers should be insulated from external threats.

A news article from Security Week had shown that a recent scan of the internet discovered over 3,700 instances of OctoPrint interfaces on the internet. In this case, insecure or weakly protected instances allowed hackers to steal print designs, change printer settings, or even change the design of the printed item. For manufacturing businesses that rely on precision printed components, these security risks could affect the safety of their customers and their reputation. An article from International Defense, Security, and Technology, tells the story of a security researcher manipulating the printing of propeller blades for a drone. Shortly after trying to fly the drone with the altered blades, the drone would crash.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have taken on the challenge of helping businesses secure their 3D printers. Carnegie Mellow University security researchers developed a tool named C3PO to help IT teams secure these printing devices. C3PO works in two parts. The first part looks and identifies any security vulnerabilities that affect the printer. The second function of C3PO simulates an attack on the printer based on the security flaws found. The information provided from this tool allows security providers and IT teams the information needed to protect their network and assets better. Additionally, for 3D printers used in fields that are heavily regulated, the files used to design the printed items should be encrypted until they are needed.

As a proud supporter of American manufacturing, Certitude Security® is working diligently to inform leaders and facilitate essential asset protection priorities for manufacturing businesses throughout the United States. If you are interested in learning about the empowerment services that Certitude Security® can offer, visit our website or coordinate a time to speak to a team member today.