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 allow manufacturers to overcome many obstacles, including resource waste, shipping, and creation cost. These advances help businesses simplify their supply chain and return more jobs to the United States. This article will cover 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 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.

3D printing reduces the number of molds needed for industrial manufacturing companies, effectively lowering the cost of developing and producing new products. 3D printing has vastly improved the medical manufacturing industry by decreasing the time required to create products that must be custom fit. Currently, such applications exist for creating custom prosthetic limbs, footwear inserts, and casts.

Not Just Plastic

While 3D printing has been around since the 1980s, widespread commercial availability did not happen until 2007. During this time, most 3D printers could only use spools of plastic filament. Today, the size of 3D printers has drastically become 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 of 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 better create higher resolution models for prototyping new products. Recently, manufacturers have been experimenting with different methods of 3D printing with metal. With various printing methods with varying metal materials, manufacturers can further expand their potential products.

3D printing station at a factory3D printing helps manufacturers 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 reduce the cost of resources by wasting less and easing the dependence on third-party suppliers within a supply chain. An example of this can come from a manufacturer’s perspective that creates metal car parts. The manufacturer will have to make multiple molds for different product versions in a typical production environment. With 3D printing, manufacturers can review the design within the preferred software and print when all parties are satisfied. Another benefit of 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 in Brooklyn, New York, uses over 200 3D printers to fulfill various orders.

Another manufacturing business interested in 3D printing and 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 of the two processes, GE found 3D printing cheaper and more efficient. GE would have the metal components milled from aluminum blocks in the past. The milling process was wasteful as there were leftover resources, and defective parts led to a more significant waste of resources. 3D printing products would always meet functional expectations while using only the component’s resources.

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 to create new product models could face intellectual property theft if hackers access the model files. Like the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, many 3D printers are accessible over the Internet. While beneficial to some, this capability 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 key3D printers should be insulated from external threats like other types of production equipment.

A news article from Security Week showed 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 devices allowed hackers to steal print designs, change printer settings, or change the design of items printed.

These security risks could affect their customers’ safety and reputation for manufacturing businesses that rely on precision-printed components. 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 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 by this tool allows security providers and IT teams the information needed to protect their networks and assets better. Additionally, for 3D printers used in heavily regulated fields, the files used to design the printed items should be encrypted until they are needed.

As a proud supporter of American companies, Certitude Security® is working diligently to inform leaders and facilitate essential asset protection priorities for manufacturers and supply chains throughout the United States.

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