Bad vibrations: UCI researchers find security breach in 3-D printing process

With findings that could have been taken from the pages of a spy novel, researchers at the University of California, Irvine have demonstrated that they can purloin intellectual property by recording and processing sounds emitted by a 3-D printer.

Prototypes produced on 3-D printers are intricately detailed. A new UCI study has found that the machines emit sounds, vibrations and other signals that present opportunities for industrial espionage.

The team, led by Mohammad Al Faruque, director of UCI’s Advanced Integrated Cyber-Physical Systems Lab, showed that a device as ordinary and ubiquitous as a smartphone can be placed next to a machine and capture acoustic signals that carry information about the precise movements of the printer’s nozzle. The recording can then be used to reverse engineer the object being printed and re-create it elsewhere. Detailed processes may be deciphered through this new kind of cyberattack, presenting significant security risks.

“In many manufacturing plants, people who work on a shift basis don’t get monitored for their smartphones, for example,” Al Faruque said. “If process and product information is stolen during the prototyping phases, companies stand to incur large financial losses. There’s no way to protect these systems from such an attack today, but possibly there will be in the future.”

Al Faruque’s team achieved nearly 90 percent accuracy using the sound copying process to duplicate a key-shaped object in the lab. They will present their results at April’s International Conference on Cyber-Physical Systems in Vienna.

Prototypes produced on 3-D printers are intricately detailed. A new UCI study has found that the machines emit sounds, vibrations and other signals that present opportunities for industrial espionage. Daniel Anderson / UCI

State-of-the-art 3-D printing systems convert digital information embedded in source code to build layer upon layer of material until a solid object takes shape. That source file, referred to as G-code, can be protected from cyberthievery with strong encryption, but once the creation process has begun, the printer emits sounds that can give up the secrets buried in the software.

“My group basically stumbled upon this finding last summer as we were doing work to try to understand the relationship between information and energy flows,” said Al Faruque, an electrical engineer and computer scientist. “According to the fundamental laws of physics, energy is not consumed; it’s converted from one form to another – electromagnetic to kinetic, for example. Some forms of energy are translated in meaningful and useful ways; others become emissions, which may unintentionally disclose secret information.”

The emissions produced by 3-D printers are acoustic signals that contain a lot of information, he said, adding: “Initially, we weren’t interested in the security angle, but we realized we were onto something, and we’re seeing interest from other departments at UCI and from various U.S. government agencies.”

“President Obama has spoken about returning manufacturing to the United States, and I think 3-D printing will play a major role because of the creation of highly intellectual objects, in many cases in our homes,” Al Faruque said. But he cautioned that with the convenience of these new technologies come opportunities for industrial espionage.

He suggested that engineers begin to think about ways to jam the acoustic signals emanating from 3-D printers, possibly via a white-noise device to introduce intentional acoustic randomness or by deploying algorithmic solutions. At a minimum, Al Faruque said, a fundamental precaution would be to prevent people from carrying smartphones near the rapid prototyping areas when sensitive objects are being printed. Today’s smartphones, he noted, have sensors that can capture a range of analog emissions.

iComposite 4.0 launched: Schuler leads group project on the economic serial production of fiber-reinforced plastic parts

As the importance of lightweight construction methods continues to rise, the automotive industry is increasingly considering fiber-reinforced plastics (composites). Due to high strength combined with low weight, fiber-reinforced plastics offer lightweight potentials which have not been fully exploited yet. At the moment, however, high resulting component costs, among other things, are preventing the widespread use of such composite parts. The beginning of 2016 saw the launch of iComposite 4.0, a group project led by Schuler aimed at achieving economical serial production of components made of fiber-reinforced plastics through increased resource efficiency.

A self-regulating production line makes it possible to maintain defined characteristics of composite parts.

Due to the high material cost, resource efficiency opens up enormous potential for cost savings. One approach to decreasing the component cost is to reduce the use of materials and processing times in production drastically. The cut-off of semi-finished products is up to 50 percent during manufacturing, for instance. In addition, due to new technologies, there is significant production-related scrap. With the iComposite 4.0 project, cost savings are to be achieved by near net shape, additive production processes (“3D printing”) – in combination with a resin-injection method established in the industry – as well as a networked production system with regulating system intelligence (“Internet of Things”).

The starting point of the networked production system is additive fiber spraying, which is a highly productive process to generate the basic structure of the component. After this, fiber strands are applied very precisely and in accordance with the load profile in order to absorb peak loads in the part and compensate for part variations in the fiber spraying process. During the subsequent injection of resin and shaping in the press, the die’s deflection is deliberately influenced in order to obtain the desired wall thicknesses of the part.

During the subsequent process steps, regulating system intelligence compensates for any fluctuations in the part’s properties in order to minimize scrap. The production history is stored on an RFID chip integrated into the part. This uninterrupted quality monitoring and linking of individual systems along the production line in accordance with Internet of Things methods is ultimately aimed at achieving a zero scrap rate.

In addition to Schuler, partners of the group project sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) are the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) at RWTH Aachen, Apodius GmbH, Broetje Automation Composites GmbH, Frimo Sontra GmbH, ID-Systec GmbH, the Institute of Plastics Processing (IKV) in Industry and the Skilled Crafts at RWTH Aachen, Siemens AG, and Toho Tenax Europe GmbH.

Delcam customer Jaivel programs 50 Bloodhound SSC parts with PowerMILL

International manufacturing technology company, Jaivel, has used Delcam’s PowerMILL CAM software to generate programs for the machining of more than fifty parts for the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car project. Bloodhound SSC, which is powered by a combination of a Rolls Royce jet engine and a rocket, aims to set a new world land speed record of 1,000 mph in South Africa next year.

Bloodhound SSC includes more than 50 parts programmed by Jaivel using PowerMill

Staff at Jaivel, which has grown over almost twenty years into an international supplier of technology solutions for advanced manufacturing, are more used to working in the aerospace industry. The company has played a key role in the manufacture of parts for some of the world’s largest commercial aircraft.

However, the company has also a strong background in other sectors including medical, Formula 1 and energy. Managing Director, Vipul Vachhani, explained, “I had worked in the Indian aerospace industry since leaving university so, when I started my own company in 1998, I wanted to continue in that sector. I soon realised that it was much too early to build a business in aerospace in India so diversified into providing design and manufacturing services for other engineering sectors. Equally, I found that using manual programming was limiting the projects we could undertake so, in 2001, I decided to invest in a CAM system. The system that I had used in my previous job was no longer available and PowerMILL seemed to be the only software that offered the same level of flexibility.”

The optimal balance of automation and flexibility still remains the main benefit of using PowerMILL. “PowerMILL incorporates a lot of automation which makes programming faster and the software usually gives the toolpaths we need,” claimed Mr. Vachhani.

PowerMILL has also allowed Jaivel staff to customise the software for common applications. One example uses a combination of Excel and PowerMILL to generate plunge milling routines for complex blisks with limited space between the blades.

By 2004, the business in India was growing well but Mr. Vachhani still had ambitions to expand within the aerospace industry. “The Indian industry remained very small so I decided to open an office in the UK to be closer to aerospace customers there. I choose Mansfield because it was a central location near to Derby, the home of Rolls Royce,” he said.

Jaivel now uses PowerMILL in both the UK and India. More recently, the company has added FeatureCAM to provide programs for turn-mill equipment. Jaivel became involved in the Bloodhound SSC project after being asked to develop programs for one of its customers that was making some parts for the car. Over time, its role expanded to more than fifty components, the most complex being parts for the car’s gear box.

The work on Bloodhound SSC has highlighted another strength of PowerMILL – the quality and flexibility of its post-processors. Involvement with Bloodhound SSC helped Jaivel to raise its profile, initially in the UK but now in India as well. The country’s media is starting to make enquiries since Jaivel is the only Indian company involved with the car. A growing track record of other successful projects is also helping to bring in more business.

As well as producing toolpaths for new components, Jaivel is also being asked to revisit the programs it developed for some of its earlier projects. The demand for year-on-year cost reductions is prompting requests for more efficient tooling or newer strategies to be used. While it is more unusual for the machine tool to be changed, this is now happening in some cases where the original equipment purchased for the project is getting older.