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PrinTracker: Tracking 3D Printed Objects’ Origins

3D Printing Media Network reports on the efforts of a team of researchers from the University at Buffalo who have “devised a method for identifying which 3D printer an object” originated from.

This will keep track of 3D printed weapons and counterfeit 3D printed goods.  The team, along with other researchers from Rutgers and Northeastern universities, have developed a project they’ve dubbed ‘PrinTracker,’ which keeps track of 3D printed items “based on inherent imperfections in infill patterns.”

As University at Buffalo’s Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and Study Lead Wenyao Xu, PhD explains: “3D printing has many wonderful uses, but it’s also a counterfeiter’s dream.  Even more concerning, it has the potential to make firearms more readily available to people who are not allowed to possess them.”

PrinTracker allows individuals to decipher “the subtle differences between objects printed on different 3D printers.  These differences…are found on a submillimeter scale in infill patterns. Though the patterns are supposed to be uniform and dictated by the digital 3D model of the printed object, a number of elements (such as printer model, filament type, nozzle size etc.) can cause tiny imperfections in the print…A given 3D printer model will produce parts with unique and repeatable infill imperfections, creating something of a fingerprint within 3D printed parts.”

In order to test the reliability of these 3D printer ‘fingerprints’, the “team…[used] 14 3D printer models (10 FDM and four SLA) to 3D print a series of five keys each. Once the prints were complete, an inkjet scanner was used to digitally capture each of the printed keys. These scans were then enhanced and filtered so that the infill patterns were distinguishable.  From there, the team used an algorithm to align and calculate the variations of each key’s print pattern to check the authenticity of the ‘fingerprint,’ which enabled them to establish a database of fingerprints for each of the 14 3D printers in the test.”  PrinTracker was accurate 99.8% of the time, and 92% accurate once those items were damaged.

As Xu concludes: “we’ve demonstrated…PrinTracker is an effective, robust and reliable way law enforcement agencies, as well as businesses concerned about intellectual property, can trace the origin of 3D-printed goods.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of the University at Buffalo and 3D Printing Media Network

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