Additive Manufacturing Aims to Meet DOD’s Needs
Cybersecurity is key to software-driven manufacturing.
The U.S. Department of Defense is looking at additive manufacturing technologies to rapidly prototype and build equipment components and increasingly, to potentially make replacement parts in the field.
While additive manufacturing, the ability to build plastic and metal parts by depositing a fine spray of material, has been used by the aerospace and defense sectors for some time, the capability is now becoming more portable. One such project is the U.S. Marine Corps’ X-Fab effort, which uses a shipping container loaded with compact additive manufacturing equipment that can be shipped anywhere in the world to make replacement parts.
X-Fab is one example of the government’s interest and support for additive manufacturing technologies, said David Benhaim, co-founder and chief technology officer for Markforged, a firm that develops and makes additive manufacturing equipment and software.
Additive manufacturing lays down materials in microscopic layers, building them into complex shapes such as rocket engines and other components that are effectively a single piece. Making these components requires close cooperation between hardware and software development.
“We’re actually a hardware company that happens to produce software,” Benhaim told SIGNAL Magazine’s Kimberly Underwood during a SIGNAL Executive Video Series discussion.
An important part of how Markforged works with its government customers is by applying what Benhaim refers to as the “additive kill chain.” This term refers to the industrial cycle that covers everything from the customer’s need/problem to developing and producing the solution and how that data is then moved to the additive manufacturing software before being loaded into the equipment to make it.
The end of this chain is a software file, a compiler for a physical object, which the printing equipment then creates. There are a variety to ways to transmit that file, either via the cloud, a local network or physically via “sneakernet” in the case of a small portable facility such as an X-Fab, notes Benhaim.
Because additive manufacturing is mainly software-driven, cybersecurity is a key concern because there are many opportunities for an attacker to interfere with the process along this chain. Markforged employs a layered cyber defense system to secure its data. This involves the use of encryption for the data files themselves, access control logs for the production floor, and monitoring systems that ensure the products being manufactured are not being weakened or sabotaged.
“We’re talking about a solution for security at every step of the way,” Benhaim said.