Oct 29, 2016 | By Andre

Keeping secrets from one's enemy is and always has been integral to gaining an upper hand in the strategic battlefield that is war. Evidence of cryptography has been around since ancient Egypt and has continued to make appearances throughout the centuries ever since.

Whether it’s letter substitution based cyphers conceived by the Italians in the 1400s or the use of indigenous code talkers by the Americans during the second world war, keeping secrets have always been high priority in keeping military strategies safe and secure.

Of all of the cryptography devised devices however, the Enigma Machine originally conceived by the Germans in World War II is probably the most famous of the bunch. Based on a combination of mechanical and electrical subsystems, it uses a keyboard and a set of rotors arranged in such a way that when tapped, the code letter that is outputted is seemingly so random it puzzled Allied codebreakers for the better part of the war.

In time it was solved and the rest is history but now, thanks to 3D printing and the dedicated work of students at the University of Rennes in France, the previously unbreakable code machine can be yours with a little bit of know-how, patience and of course 3D printed parts.

For them it all started after finding a useful datasheet online that described in great detail how the machine worked. From there, it was only a matter of converting that data into a physical form and that’s exactly what they did.

Fortunately for us, they released all the 3D printable STL files on file-sharing site Thingiverse, the original design files on google drive (you know, just in case you want to improve on the seemingly robust code keeper) and did all of this on what is essentially a GPL share and modify license.

After taking a look at some of the STL files, I quickly realized that just about all of the mechanical components are printable on your standard filament based 3D printer in any rigid material of your choosing (PLA and ABS should work just fine). I didn’t see any parts that would necessitate using support structures and that’s a quick nod to the designers behind the files.

From a construction perspective, while all STL files are made available to produce the bulk of the unit, it is likely more practical to use wooden boards (cut either a traditional saw or laser cutter) for the base components due to the length of time it would take to 3D print the bigger pieces (as seen in the photo below).

You will also need to source brass pins, glue, E10 filament lamps, LEDs, risistors and a serious amount of precision and care when putting it together. This means making your own Enigma Machine won’t likely be something you can complete during a casual weekend Maker session.

This said, we remain lucky that all the difficult stuff revolving around how the machine operates was figured out well before the 3D printed parts were put out in the wild. So if you can’t wrap your head around the math (it is rather complex) at least you can likely figure out the assembly instructions put forth (and still being refined) by the team from Rennes.

This project further highlights the fact that people are doing some fairly amazing things with 3D printing technology and that would never had been possible had the technology not become more available (thanks to much more affordable printers) in recent years.

Lastly, it is worth noting that the 3D printed Enigma machine does remain a work on progress. The team still hopes to make a more thorough video tutorial, keep the blog moving forward and eventually get their Enigma Machine working the same way the World War II counterpart did (yes, the truth they haven’t gotten it fully functional just yet). There are even hints that they are trying to produce a simulated Arduino based version and further fine tune what they already have.

More info on the Enigma Machine

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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Wm wrote at 10/29/2016 5:11:03 PM:

It's not a "code breaking" machine... it is the code machine itself that the allies broke with Project Ultra.



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