Innovative Prototyping Concepts for Using Additive Manufacturing for Technology Protection


Recent advances in Additive Manufacturing (AM), commonly referred to as 3D printing, may be able to play a significant role in the next generation of Technology Protection (TP) techniques. The AM and TP communities have limited interaction today and current industry groups do not address the AM-TP segment, creating a gap. This is an opportunity for AM and TP community to increase the level to which innovative AM technologies are harnessed to meet current and future TP mission needs.

Additive Manufacturing is a technology that can build 3D structures using methods that add material, as opposed to traditional subtractive methods which remove material from a blank starting form. AM methods include physically adding material layer-by-layer, as well as continuous methods. The potential for building near-arbitrary 3D structures has led to significant investment and growth of the AM industry; current technologies allow for printing plastic, metal, glass, and multi-material structures, while research hopes to enable directly printing complex structures, reactive/responsive structures, sensors, and biological tissues, among others.

Technology Protection is a broad term for the protective measures a system can utilize against unwanted intrusion or compromise. A simple example is hardware designed such that a visual inspection does not reveal its technology, while more advanced TP methods may identify hardware which has been modified or even self-destruct upon tampering. The latter functions, termed Anti-Tamper (AT) are, for example, critical in electronics to protect devices from being exploited. While the AM and TP industries are largely separate today, the capabilities of AM in terms of building structures with unique geometric designs and material combinations suggests that there may be a significant potential for developing innovative TP technologies using AM methods.

The Additive Manufacturing technology landscape currently includes a wide range of large and small businesses providing “stand-alone” printers capable of manufacturing objects using polymers, plastics, metals, ceramics, and more; with a wider range of geometric and design freedom than many traditional and subtractive techniques. Today, AM is being applied to many DoD mission applications to assist with rapid prototyping, design support, form-fit-function checks, temporary spares, and even fully qualified and operational parts, primarily through applied research and manufacturing user’s groups. However, AM research and understanding of its specific potential to address TP threats is very limited. This opportunity allows respondents to apply any AM technology to the TP applications, and demonstrate improvement over current TP techniques, processes, or systems as well as feasibility for eventual deployment on DoD systems and platforms.