Aug 2, 2016 | By Alec

The unfortunate reality of any technological breakthrough is that it can often be used for criminal purposes as well. 3D printing is no exception, as a recent crime wave in international harbors involving 3D printed fake locks has shown. But even hackers or spies can use 3D printing to their advantage, according to numerous specialists. Among others, they could intentionally incorporate small defects into 3D printable designs to maliciously reduce durability or reliability – a serious problem as more and more engine parts are also being 3D printed.

But the solution could be simple, as researchers from the University of North Dakota (UND) have revealed. They are working on an image analysis system for the assessment of the 3D printing process, relying on a sensor setup that acts like a 3D scanner. UND researcher Jeremy Straub, who has been working on this solution for some time, revealed that this project was initially focused on detecting defects caused by equipment malfunctions, though it can play an important role in preventing malicious attacks as well.

Last year, the initial study already resulted in a publication in the journal Machines, entitled Initial Work on the Characterization of Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) Using Software Image Analysis. And as Straub explains, the core of the problem can be found in 3D printing technology itself. Virtually all 3D printing systems lack the ability to assess the quality of the products they make – many desktop 3D printers even continue their processes even when filament has ran out. “They also cannot identify defects, which require manual intervention or may render the object unsuitable for use,” Straub wrote.

That is unfortunate, because early defect detection could make 3D printing more streamlined, reliable and attractive. In their initial project, the UND team therefore built an experimental setup using a MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer and five camera units – made from a Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Pi camera. When combined with image processing software, they assessed printing progress (thus detecting completion failure defects) and quality.

The camera units themselves acted like a budget 3D scanner, collecting image data that was stitched together and compared to the 3D model. The data itself was collected by stopping the printing process at numerous points. During that time, the printer was put in sleep mode, which moved the printing plate to its standard position.

While not foolproof, it was certainly effective in assessing standard printing quality. In fact, they found that standard tests can be performed with just limited computational resources, without greatly increasing costs or time spent on 3D printing. The results were even promising enough to convince the team to commercialize a more intricate version, with the help of a North Dakota Department of Commerce Venture Grant.

Among others, the UND team is looking at identifying and characterizing multiple forms defects, such as structural design flaws. This would certainly make it possible to identify ‘hacked’ designs. “An independent detection system, using a model of the expected output as a baseline, would be able to identify defects created by maloperation as well as maliciously introduced ones,” Straub argued. “The level of separation that is practically required will depend on the severity of the impact of a defect, the likelihood of attack and what other countermeasures are in place to prevent or mitigate such an attack.”

While that improved system would be dependent on the resolution of the sensors, it could be used with any position-correlated pixel-based sensing technology. This means that, theoretically, even microscopic details could be analyzed, depending on the application of the 3D printed part. Among others, the system should also be able to identify positioning issues and other problems that affect expected 3D printing results. While it will doubtlessly require a very intricate algorithm, this UND system could greatly improve overall 3D printing quality – making it so much more appealing for existing industries.



Posted in 3D Software



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