Design Engineering

The cybersecurity risks of 3D printing


Additive Manufacturing 3D printing

Printing orientation and insertion of fine defects are two factors that can impact the final product.

Additive manufacturing is becoming more and more popular. And with the way the sector is trending, the $4 billion industry is set to quadruple by 2020. 3D printing is no longer just for developing one-offs or prototypes; the technology is entering into mainstream manufacturing since it offers significant cost-saving and design advantages. Cars, medical devices, and even commercial aircraft components are currently produced using 3D printing.

However, a team of cybersecurity and materials engineers from NYU Tandon School of Engineering are exploring some of the implications of using 3D printing in a global supply chain. Specifically, they examined two potentially serious security issues — printing orientation and insertion of fine defects — where hackers could impact an end product’s quality, leading to product recalls and lawsuits.

For example, the team believes orientation of the product during printing could make a significant quality difference — as much as 25 percent increase (or loss) in strength. Standard STL files provide the geometry of a part but not instructions for how the printer head should orient the part in the build space. Given this, the researchers say malefactors could deliberately alter the process without detection, influencing how the supplier prints the product. Similarly, the researchers say an attacker could hack into a printer that is connected to the Internet to introduce internal defects as the component is being printed.

With the rise of cloud-based and decentralized production environments, its critical to understand the unique challenges associated with additive manufacturing and avoid the risk to the reliability of the final product, warns Ramesh Karri, NYU professor of electrical and computer engineering.


“New cybersecurity methods and tools are required to protect critical parts from such compromise,” he says.

To test their theory, The team introduced sub-millimeter defects between the printed layers to see what effect this would have on the final product. They found that defects were undetectable by common industrial monitoring techniques, such as ultrasonic imaging.  Over time, materials can weaken with exposure to fatigue conditions, heat, light, and humidity and become more susceptible to these small defects.

“With 3D printed components, such as metallic molds made for injection molding used in high temperature and pressure conditions, such defects may eventually cause failure,” said Nikhil Gupta, materials researcher and an associate professor of mechanical engineering at New York University

The team comprised Nikhil Gupta, materials researcher and an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering; lead author Steven Eric Zeltmann, a graduate student in mechanical engineering; Ramesh Karri, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Michail Maniatakos, professor of electrical and computer engineering at NYU Abu Dhabi; Nektarios Tsoutsos, a doctoral student at NYU Abu Dhabi, and Jeyavijayan Rajendran, an assistant professor at The University of Texas at Dallas and former student of Karri.


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