Asset Management Automation Lean Manufacturing Management

Protect Your Additive Manufacturing Assets

EP Editorial Staff | October 11, 2023

The wide-ranging possibilities of 3D printing are tempered by the need for vigilant cybersecurity.

By Kristi Perkins, Rockwell Automation

As the manufacturing landscape undergoes rapid transformations, additive manufacturing emerges as a disruptive force. Its ability to fabricate complex parts with unprecedented precision and speed has produced marked changes in industry. As additive manufacturing technologies become more integrated into industrial processes, the need to safeguard these systems from cyber threats becomes paramount.

Additive manufacturing has experienced notable progress due to advancements in materials, hardware, and software. This technological growth has fostered widespread adoption in various industries including aerospace, automotive, healthcare, and consumer goods. By enabling the construction of parts layer by layer using a diverse range of materials, it has revolutionized design possibilities, customization options, and operational efficiency.

Consequently, the global additive-manufacturing market has witnessed remarkable expansion. According to Statista’s website, the market is projected to experience an annual growth rate of approximately 17%. This trend is further validated by significant investments made by prominent players in the industry. For example, Collins Aerospace ( recently announced a $14-million investment in a 9,000-sq.-ft. additive-manufacturing expansion in West Des Moines, IA, that substantially enhances their production capacity.

Pros and cons

The soaring demand for additive manufacturing solutions is driven by the advantages it offers, such as reduced lead times, cost-effective prototyping, and streamlined supply chains. Businesses across different sectors are recognizing the potential of this technology to transform their operations and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving market. Key benefits include:

Design freedom: Additive manufacturing allows engineers to create intricate geometries that are essentially impossible with traditional manufacturing techniques. This leads to lightweight, high-performance components and optimized structures, without considerable material waste.

Faster prototyping and production: Additive manufacturing enables rapid prototyping, reducing time to market for new products and facilitating on-demand production of spare parts.

Supply-chain flexibility: With 3D printing, companies can manufacture products closer to the point of demand, minimizing transportation costs and carbon footprint.

Personalization: Additive manufacturing facilitates mass customization, allowing products to be tailored to individual need.

There are some AM pitfalls:

Heavy front-end engineering: Most additive manufacturing work requires engineering on the front-end before the actual production stage. Companies with small engineering teams may struggle to benefit from the technology.

High equipment and material costs: Acquiring and maintaining additive equipment can be expensive, especially for industrial-grade 3D printers. Additionally, required specialized materials can be costly, further increasing overall production expenses.

Quality-control challenges: Ensuring consistent quality can be complex, particularly with large-scale production. Factors such as layer adhesion, porosity, and dimensional accuracy may vary from one print to another, necessitating strict quality-control measures.

Size limitations: The build volume of 3D printers can be limiting, restricting the size of the objects that can be produced in one piece. Larger objects may need to be divided into smaller parts and assembled afterward, which can introduce additional complexities.

Access control, data encryption, and network segmentation are three strategies that should be implemented to protect additive manufacturing assets.


Integrating additive manufacturing with industrial automation and IIoT is a pivotal aspect of Industry 4.0. It enhances manufacturing processes, accelerates production, and optimizes efficiency. While this convergence delivers numerous benefits, it also exposes new attack surfaces for cyber threats including:

Intellectual property theft: One of the primary concerns in AM is the potential theft of intellectual property. As companies digitize and store 3D models of their designs, unauthorized access to these files could lead to counterfeiting and economic loss.

Design manipulation: Cyber attackers might alter the digital design files of critical components, leading to the production of defective or compromised parts that could cause equipment failure or safety hazards.

Data breaches: Additive systems generate vast amounts of data, from design files to material parameters and machine settings. A data breach could expose sensitive information, compromise production processes, and disrupt the supply chain.

Malware and ransomware: Traditional manufacturing facilities have increasingly become attractive targets for cybercriminals. As additive manufacturing adoption grows, that attraction increases as criminals seek to encrypt  design files or disrupt production process.

Supply-chain vulnerabilities: The additive supply chain is susceptible to cyber threats, especially when relying on external vendors for digital design services or material supplies. A breach in any part of the supply chain could have far-reaching consequences.

Consider these strategies as a way to secure additive systems:

Implement access controls: Controlling access to sensitive design files, printing machines, and associated software is crucial. Multi-factor authentication and role-based access can help ensure that only authorized personnel can use critical systems.

Data encryption: Encrypting data in transit and at rest helps protect sensitive information from unauthorized access and ensures the integrity of design files and production parameters.

Network segmentation: Isolating systems from the broader corporate network reduces the potential attack surface. Creating separate network segments for design, production, and management minimizes the risk of lateral movement by cyber threats.

Continuous monitoring and intrusion detection: Implementing real-time monitoring and intrusion-detection systems can help prompt identification and response to cyber threats. Analyzing network traffic and machine behavior can detect activities indicative of a potential breach.

Employee training and awareness: Employees play a crucial role in cybersecurity. Educating the workforce about potential threats, phishing scams, and best practices for handling sensitive data can significantly enhance the overall security posture.

Secure supply-chain management: Collaborating with trusted vendors and conducting regular security assessments within the supply chain are essential for safeguarding against potential vulnerabilities.

As additive manufacturing gains momentum across industries, industrial cybersecurity becomes paramount in ensuring the integrity, safety, and competitiveness of these advanced processes. By recognizing the unique challenges posed by additive manufacturing and implementing robust cybersecurity measures, including globally recognized standards such as ISA/IEC 62443, businesses can confidently embrace the future of 3D printing while mitigating potential risks. Protecting intellectual property, securing data, and fortifying supply chains will be key to unlocking the full potential of additive manufacturing in the Industry 4.0 era. EP

Kristi Perkins is an Industry Account Manager at Rockwell Automation, Milwaukee, WI (  A member of the International Society of Automation (ISA), Pittsburgh, PA (, Perkins has an MBA from Eastern Washington Univ.


Sign up for insights, trends, & developments in
  • Machinery Solutions
  • Maintenance & Reliability Solutions
  • Energy Efficiency
Return to top