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Intellectual property protection and repeatability in serial additive manufacturing


Additive Manufacturing Concerns

Additive manufacturing is growing and moving into the phase of supporting real production in a distributed manufacturing environment. But for designers and companies transmitting models containing valuable IP and manufacturing hubs building real products from simplistic design files there is still not significant software support for the core actions and the concerns of both parties. Designers seek security for their creative work, hubs for reduced complexity in manufacturing the file and both need support to deliver consistent outputs. GROW is focused on tackling these major impediments to widespread distributed additive manufacturing.

For designers and companies distributed manufacturing can transform their reach and inventory storage. However the primary concern before significant remote production can take place is how to secure the design files. Small, low value, quickly produced parts will be able to be streamed, like a music file, to the target printer and already several software solutions support this subset of the market. However for higher value files and files that need significant build time, streaming is not a safe or practical solution, streamed 3D designs, like streamed music and television shows can and will be recorded and replayed to 3D printers. Designs higher in value or containing important IP need to be encrypted before leaving their home network, securely delivered to the target location and be able to pass through the entire build process, encrypted all the way to the laser.

For manufactures an underappreciated issue is the additional complexity and information required to turn an STL, SLI, CLI, or 3MF file into an actual printed object. There are a number of variables such as orientation, platform layout, parameters and themes controlling the lasers and build environment, all of which have to be decided on before manufacturing can begin. These variables also play a major part in getting consistent output as there is no way to store and associate the chosen values with a design model file, any human error or variation when inputting these values on every build leads to variations in the output or failed builds. Maintaining quality and consistency is a major concern for both manufacturing hubs and designers.

Tackling Security

To tackle security of design models, Grow allows designers to encrypt their STL files locally on their own network using our freely available secure.AM product. Secure.AM uses an RSA public-private asymmetric encryption algorithm, with a 3072 bit encryption key. The RSA algorithm is based on mathematically links between the public and private keys and the computational infeasibility of factoring large prime numbers, this leads to an algorithm that allows designers to easily encrypt their files and have mathematical certainty that no matter where the file is transmitted to, only the holder of the private key can decrypt the file. Industry standards consider GROW’s 3072 bit key size to be able to secure files past the 2030’s.

To further enhance secure transmission, secure.AM takes advantage of the structure of the RSA algorithms to assign each registered GROW ready Hub with a specific private key. Therefore not only are design files securely encrypted for transmission, but each file is targeted at a single specific GROW ready Hub, only that hub specified by the designer can open that encrypted STL (GROW) file.

Allowing local encryption is an important feature we support as the standard secure internet transmission mechanisms such as HTTPS and FTP have had significant vulnerabilities and exploits discovered recently. Those mechanisms also assume a secure starting point, if the initial handshake between the designers network and the hub network is compromised, then the ensuing transmission is also compromised. Encrypting the design locally before transmission is the appropriate security step.

Tackling Complexity and Consistency

Ensuring security is only part of the goal, to truly support distributed additive manufacturing, hubs, designers and their consumers need to have confidence in the consistent quality of the finished products. GROW’s encrypted file supports the inclusion of additional manufacturing metadata. Allowing designers to specify a material, hubs to store orientation, the parameter set to be used and GROW continues to work with leading additive manufacturing printer companies to support additional options. This metadata can be saved and encrypted alongside the STL design in the GROW file, allowing repeated use and removing areas where inconsistency can enter.

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The key action to support this improvement in consistency and security is GROW’s continued work with leading additive manufacturing printer companies. EOS, Arcam GE and Renishaw machines can read the encrypted GROW files, interpret the recorded metadata values and apply them to the build job. GROW is collaborating with several additional manufacturers.

The facility for additive manufacturing machines to read and interpret GROW files provides the option that prepared and reliably designs can be sent straight into the machine, saving time and potential error for hub operators. The hub can also assure their clients of file security, letting the file be processed by the machine and stay encrypted all the way to the laser.

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If you are interested in hearing more about how we can support your hub and clients, please contact us at

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