3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is becoming more mainstream with 3D printers more commercially available. The cost of 3D printers has plummeted. At the time of writing, there are 3D printers as cheap as £70. The accuracy of 3D printing has improved and continues to get better. The machines are more user-friendly, and it’s easier to design 3D models thanks to free software programs.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that only manufacturing companies would benefit from the cheap and quick manufacturing of 3D printing technologies. However, there are many other applications of 3D printing beyond simply manufacturing.
3D printing is not just used to streamline manufacturing, for example, printing complex products that used to require multiple pieces as one single piece, reducing waste, saving money and time, but being used in the food industry to enable users to users to create customised shapes, textures and flavours reusing ingredients which otherwise would be thrown away, and by the health industry to make artificial bones.
With a growing sustainable market on the horizon, business’ need to be asking themselves how they can utilise this new technology.
However, before you go out and start bulk buying 3D-printers, it’s worth considering the current security concerns of 3D printing. They broadly fit into 3 categories:
Although not present in its infancy, the internet is now strictly governed alerting governments and authorities to illicit behaviour. 3D printers however aren’t subject to such governance. They are able to be networked but interactions between a printer and machine aren’t necessarily monitored (certainly not at a government level). With 3D printing, there is no centralised way to monitor what is being printed and who is printing it, which means it can be used for illegal activity. As often is the case, legislation is struggling to keep up with new technical innovations and all their applications.
Any device connected to a network poses as a potential entry point for any malicious actors. A current example of this is the prevalence of mobile devices or BYOD (Bring your own device) devices in the workplace. Any machine you add to a network poses a potential entry point for unauthorised users.
It’s very hard to accurately assess by eye that what you printed is what was delivered. How do you know if the strength is correct and not been tampered with? How do you know the structure is accurate?
If you enjoyed this briefing paper, check out our other digital resources which cover a wide range of topics, including quantum computing, social media, and 3D printing.
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Before starting at Lancaster University over four years ago, Geraint had worked in software development roles in IBM and the Civil Service. In addition to being a qualified teacher, Geraint has worked freelance with a varied client base as a software developer and graphic designer.
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