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No More Fake Prints

Researchers Defeat 3D Printing Piracy with Hidden QR Codes

Picture of Hanna Watkin
by Hanna Watkin
Aug 23, 2018

Researchers at NYU Tandon and NYU Abu Dhabi have developed the means to insulate 3D printing from piracy by converting flat QR codes into hidden features within a printed part.

Worldwide, the market for 3D printed parts is $5 billion. As a result, intellectual property theft and counterfeiting are rife. But, what can be done to stop this when the global supply chain is online?

Researchers at NYU Tandon and NYU Abu Dhabi believe they have come up with a solution to foil counterfeiters and IP pirates. Their new method of identifying a unique device involves converting QR codes into 3D hidden features.

The resulting codes won’t compromise the part or be apparent to a counterfeiter. Only those in the know would be able to find the QR code to confirm the legitimacy of the 3D printable part.

Nikhil Gupta, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, explains: “To create typical QR code contrasts that are readable to a scanner you have to embed the equivalent of empty spaces… But by dispersing these tiny flaws over many layers we were able to keep the part’s strength well within acceptable limits.”

QR Codes

3D Printed QR Codes are a Game of 3D Chess

Experts believe that by 2021, 75% of commercial and military aircraft will have a huge number of 3D printed components. Meanwhile, in medicine, the use of additive manufacturing in implants is expected to grow by 20% in the next 10 years too.

With this in mind fooling hackers and IP pirates is an important task. So much so that Gupta and his team’s work was funded by The Office of Naval Research.

They explain that it was possible to exploit the layer-by-layer printing process and turn QR codes into “a game of 3D chess” by exploding the code into the file.

The resulting QR code has multiple false faces but, a trusted computer or printer can read the legitimate code. To get to this point the team had to test many different configurations.

For example, they tried fragmenting the code into 500 tiny elements over just three layers of a printed object. They tested multiple popular printing technologies and materials before stress testing the resulting prints.

Gupta explains that the final step was finding out which AM sector this technology was most useful for. He adds: “You need to be cost-efficient and match the solution to the threat level… Our innovation is particularly useful for sophisticated, high-risk sectors such as biomedical and aerospace, in which the quality of even the smallest part is critical.”

Find out more by reading the researcher’s published paper in Advanced Engineering Materials.

Source: NYU Tandon School of Engineering

License: The text of "Researchers Defeat 3D Printing Piracy with Hidden QR Codes" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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