Mar 14, 2016 | By Alec

Unlimited copying. It’s at the core of the 3D printing community, where passionate makers share their designs free of charge. But it’s poison for established toy companies and other manufacturers, who see their business models threatened to such an extent that 3D printing doesn’t even register on their lists of viable technologies. In an attempt to remedy this and make 3D printing a viable marketing option, Disney has just revealed their solution in a patent application. Using a new registration platform, they are looking to embed identification elements into authorized 3D printed toys (like an RFID for example) to make 3D printing at home by paying users a possibility.

It’s an interesting strategy that at least seeks to find a solution for the unauthorized copying controversy. Selling merchandise is a significant revenue stream for Disney and a key element in every business decision behind new movies, for instance. But with the quality and popularity of desktop 3D printers rising, new opportunities and dangers are arising. Like other major merchandise producers, they are cracking down on unauthorized copies on the web, but they are also recognizing that a new market might be created, where users or toy stores can purchase authorized 3D printable files for merchandise.

Their proposed solution? To authorize certain prints through an identification system that separates the good from the bad. Crucially, this will have to be located on the inside of the model, to avoid 3D scanners from hijacking authorized 3D prints. That technology is now disclosed in a patent application, entitled Three Dimensional (3D) Printed Objects With Embedded Identification (ID) Elements. This application was developed by Jeffrey Voris, Benjamin Foster, Jorge ALted and David W. Crawford for Disney, and was filed way back in September 2014.

As they explain in the application, they recognize that 3D printers and 3D scanners make it almost impossible to control the copying of any model. “With this problem in mind, the inventors determined that it would be useful to have a unique identifier or ID element in each physical instance of a printed 3D object that could not easily be copied (such as with a 3D scanner scanning external surfaces of the a printed 3D object) but that would also remain a part of the original digital model,” they write.

And the solution is in 3D printing itself. The layers can be 3D printed in such a way, that an integrally formed ID element is shaped – but embedded within the 3D object. “The method includes processing the digital file to define print layers of the 3D model, and a number of the print layers include layers of the model of the ID element. The method involves operating the 3D printer to print the layers to form a 3D object with an integrally formed ID element. The ID element is embedded within object elements of the 3D object,” they write in the application.

This can be an RFID tag (that can be picked up with radio frequency) or another unspecified measurable ID tag, and can be linked to serial numbers that make it completely possible to track authorized toys. To make it easier to pick up on scanning units, Disney is even considering the option of 3D printing the tag in other materials. “e.g., conductive, higher density than other material used for printing, or the like,” they add. The pattern, however, will be the crucial factor in this technique. “e.g., a passive RFID tag, a 3D ID with a particular shape, size, and/or location within the 3D object or its components/elements that identifies an object, or the like,” they add. It’s a clever solution that could make our desktop 3D printers part of a larger manufacturing market in the near future. The full patent application can be found here.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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