Like fingerprints, no 3D printer is exactly the same. That’s the takeaway from a new study that describes what’s believed to be the first accurate method for tracing a 3D-printed object to the machine it came from. The advancement could help law enforcement and intelligence agencies track the origin of 3D-printed guns, counterfeit products and other goods.
“3D printers are built to be the same. But there are slight variations in their hardware created during the manufacturing process that lead to unique, inevitable and unchangeable patterns in every object they print,” Xu says.
To test PrinTracker, the research team created five door keys each from 14 common 3D printers — 10 fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers and four stereolithography (SLA) printers.
With a common scanner, the researchers created digital images of each key. From there, they enhanced and filtered each image, identifying elements of the in-fill pattern. They then developed an algorithm to align and calculate the variations of each key to verify the authenticity of the fingerprint.
Having created a fingerprint database of the 14 3D printers, the researchers were able to match the key to its printer 99.8 percent of the time. They ran a separate series of tests 10 months later to determine if additional use of the printers would affect PrinTracker’s ability to match objects to their machine of origin. The results were the same.
The team also ran experiments involving keys damaged in various ways to obscure their identity. PrinTracker was 92 percent accurate in these tests.