Cybersecurity and Additive Manufacturing: Tell Me Something I Don’t Already Know

Pick a cybersecurity survey, any survey from any provider. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
That survey you picked is going to tell you that:

  1. Despite your best efforts, your business is hopelessly exposed.
  2. Cyber threats are on the rise and getting more sophisticated.
  3. Breaches are extremely costly and devastating.
  4. In conclusion, you are utterly out gunned, can’t keep up, don’t have the budget or resources to defend, and it’s simply a matter of when, not if, you will be the victim.

P.S. Have a nice day 

Tell me something I don’t already know.

Let’s use Additive Manufacturing (AM) as a specific example:

AM machines are revolutionizing manufacturing and supply chain. However, AM machines are driven by software and are usually connected to other computers to enable capabilities and control functions; they consume CAD files from external sources which need to be converted to G-code or instructions the machine can understand. Oh, and this entire ecosystem requires firmware and software updates to keep everything up and functioning properly. It’s a dream playground for cyber criminals.

A compromised AM machine is potentially highly dangerous as a defect can easily be hidden (intentionally or unintentionally) in the interior of an AM-built component. Since AM components are often geometrically complex, it can be impossible to perform non-destructive evaluation (NDE) and inspection processes. This creates a situation where critical flaws can escape traditional inspection methods, only appearing and causing failure when the component is installed and eventually stressed. Critical flaws introduced randomly into a supply chain have the very real potential to cause catastrophic failure, result in physical harm and wreck your business.

P.S. Have a nice day 

Tell me something I don’t already know. So now what?

On the surface, there does not appear to be an obvious answer. Yet there is another way. Let’s start by focusing on fundamentals:

Quality in traditional manufacturing is based on the efficient use of random testing to ensure that each batch is expected to be within certain tolerances. This works well when the component being tested isn’t widely variable.  However, given the trend towards smaller lot sizes and customization or in the case of AM, you’re much more likely to need to test every single unit – which can be cost and time prohibitive.

This, you already know.

Let’s reframe the problem. In a manufacturing context, either:

  1. we should test every unit (when the stakes are high or when outcomes are unpredictable) or
  2. we should trust our people and our systems enough to test very rarely.

The key to success in this manufacturing environment is to reframe the problem so we’re solving for trust, not cybersecurity. Make no mistake, we leverage many tools and best practices from the cybersecurity domain, but we are applying them in a manner highly tailored for manufacturing and for a very specific outcome: to guarantee trust.

It’s time to change our thinking around how we apply cybersecurity in manufacturing.

Experience shows us that, in the real world, economics often trumps good intentions, particularly at scale and over time. In practical terms, this means that solving for trust can’t simply be an extra cost. Not only does an approach of solving for trust yield effective cybersecurity for manufacturing environments like AM, your cybersecurity spend shifts from being a cost center to investments in increasing efficiency.

The same way investments in AM technologies are yielding disruptive competitive advantages, so too, is applying cybersecurity to solve for trust. Solving for trust can directly improve your efficiency ratios, not just by improving the efficiency of your AM processes, but by enabling the scaling of your smart manufacturing processes. Solving for trust guarantees the integrity of your digital thread, reducing the cost and complexity of audit and compliance – and provides the foundation for new business models, such as Manufacturing as a Service (MaaS).

In real terms, this approach, which increases efficiency, reduces complexity, and opens up new business models, is ultimately competitive insulation: others simply can’t figure out how to get up there with you.

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