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Using RFID Technology to Prevent Unauthorized Copying of 3D-Printed Objects

The impact of this unique manufacturing technology is likely soon to be felt by industries worldwide.
By Nisha Dodeja
May 16, 2018

Three-dimensional printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a breakthrough in the field of product design and manufacturing. It has gained wide popularity, mainly due to its lower cost than traditional manufacturing processes, rapid speed of production, agile design process, customization of designs and high accuracy. The technology involves creating physical objects from the digital model defined by a digital file, by adding input substrate materials using a layer-upon-layer printing method. 3D printing finds application in industries such as health care, automobiles, manufacturing, aerospace, jewelry, energy and construction, among others.

The 3D printing market is still very much in its infancy. However, the impact of this unique manufacturing technology is likely to be felt by industries all over the world soon. The factors driving the market include high accuracy, reduction of errors and risks, new applications for 3D printing technology, efficient use of raw materials, customization of products, advancement in technology, use of multiple materials such as metals, plastics, and ceramics for printing, and reduction of development cost and time. A report by Progressive Markets predicts that the global 3D printing market is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 21 percent during the period of 2017 to 2025.

Although 3D printing technology enjoys widespread use, several new problems arise with the creation of objects using the technology. For instance, it has been realized that a 3D-printed object can easily be copied or reproduced by sharing the digital file that was first used to create it. Alternatively, a 3D object can be scanned to create a new digital file that can be used to reproduce the object. This reproduction of objects significantly reduces their uniqueness and desirability. Because of this issue, inventors thought that it would be necessary to have a unique identifier or ID element embedded in a 3D object so that the object cannot be easily copied by scanning, and the ID would then remain a part of the unique digital model.

Several methods can be incorporated to provide an ID element in a 3D-printed object. For instance, the ID element may take the form of a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag embedded in the digital model. RFID is the application of radio waves to read and collect data stored on a tag attached to an object. Embedded with a transmitter and a receiver, an RFID tag or label can be read from some distance away and does not need to be within the view of the reader to be tracked.

The tags must be different for each 3D object so that they provide a unique identifier for the objects after they are read by an external RFID reader or sensor. The sensor detects the ID element within a 3D object to determine its authenticity. Records of the printing of 3D objects with ID elements can be stored in a central database, which can then be accessed by customers to determine the authenticity of a 3D object by scanning or processing the ID element.

In other words, the external database helps to verify that the 3D-printed object is original or has been printed directly from a certified digital file instead of being produced from an unlicensed copy or other illegal methods. Having an RFID tag or other ID elements in a 3D object may also benefit the manufacturing, inventorying and selling of the 3D object.

Several businesses launched novel printer technologies to control the illegal copying of their 3D-printed products. For instance, Disney, an American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate, unveiled its patented technology that limits unauthorized reproduction of its 3D products and provides authentication of their objects.

The technology involves printing a model of a 3D-printed object with an ID element to control unauthorized copying. It involves controlling the 3D printer to print the layers of a 3D object along with an integrally formed ID element. This element, which is embedded within the 3D object, may be an RFID tag providing identification data when interrogated by an RFD reader. When the tag is activated by an external reader, it transmits ID data which includes a serial number that helps identify the ID element and the 3D object in which it has been formed.

Nisha Dodeja, is a keynote senior consultant on digital marketing at Allied Market Research. She has been recognized for developing a robust social network strategy for the company. Nisha has written several whitepapers, case studies, and articles. She is a visiting faculty member at various educational institutions and has expertise in construction and manufacturing.

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