Protecting your trade secrets

Tips for ensuring your printer’s not left unplugged in a box in a shifting global manufacturing climate. By Doug Kenik, Director of Software Product Management, and Nate Washor, Software and Security Product Manager Markforged.

Global manufacturing is in flux. According to reports, July saw China’s exports suffering their biggest decline in recent years, with the value of exports, measured in US dollars, falling 14.5% last month from a year ago.

Statistics like these reflect the effects of ongoing geopolitical tensions, which – when combined with factors including worldwide labour shortages and rising costs – are fuelling a shift toward nearshoring and onshoring production. The trends of digital and on-demand manufacturing continue to grow as part of the effort to de-risk supply chains and safeguard manufacturing for the future.

Technologies like Additive Manufacturing (AM) are well-positioned to support this evolution, helping to shorten or even bypass strained and broken supply chains . Connected platforms are playing a crucial role in powering digital warehouses and inventories. In addition, AM is supporting the emerging trend of parts-on-demand platforms, which provide new opportunities for manufacturers to thrive by monetising their Intellectual Property (IP) straight from their factory floors.

However, none of these advances are viable without robust security standards and measures in place. The IP and data generated from moving physical inventories to the cloud must be secure and protected before they can be monetised, especially for high performance and industrial parts.

Understanding the risks of digitisation

Education plays a key role in battling misconceptions when it comes to digitisation. The first step to ensuring a secure, connected environment is to understand the actual and perceived risks it presents. These include:

IP theft: When it comes to digitisation, the threat of IP theft is the largest perceived risk and generally the one that holds most people back, due in large to its power to diminish innovation and compromise economic advantages. Starting with safe options like digitising non-sensitive files is a good way for manufacturers to dip their toe in the water to see what it’s like.

Scalability: There is also a perceived risk around a lack of scalability when it comes to compiling digital inventories. As with any innovation, there is work, investment and training required to build the infrastructure and get it up and running. While it may seem a daunting prospect, the industry is working hard to overcome this perception by sharing success stories and highlighting the benefits digitisation can bring.

Quality control: Companies need full confidence in every part they print from their digital inventory. Earning ISO 9001 certification in quality management illustrates a commitment to quality. In addition, simulation and inspection technologies provide validation and provide engineers with the confidence that the parts they print will behave as it should every time they print them.

Security best practices

Security and access controls are essential in mitigating the risks above, as well as meeting stringent customer and stakeholder demands. The following points outline examples of parameters that should be considered by the AM and wider manufacturing industry when it comes to building safe and secure connected digital inventories, marketplaces and adopting smart manufacturing practices:

● Protecting your personally identifiable information (PII), IP and part data is essential. This requires vigorous processes to be in place. Data files need to be encrypted throughout their entire journey – from being sent to machines, through to its storage in the cloud.

● Earning certification such as ISO270001 shows shows is that you've implemented an "Information Security Management System" for how your organisation does business. This in turn will reduce your vulnerability to attacks.

● Insider threats are real – and growing. According to the Gurucul’s 2023 Insider Threat Report, 74% of organisations surveyed said insider attacks have become more frequent. To combat insider – and outside – threats, Single Sign On (SSO) authentication and Role Based Access Controls (RBAC) need to be in place. These measures help to ensure you know who’s logging in and limits what people can see. Together, SSO and RBAC lock down sensitive information to only those who have been explicitly granted those rights.

● To limit exposure, technologies like digital warehouses and parts-on-demand platforms should also be tightly controlled and shared only with trusted partners.

● Consider hiring third party experts to perform penetration testing; their vulnerability reports identify weak spots to help strengthen security and mitigate risks. This allows for unbiased testing and threat detection to expose any vulnerabilities.

● Provide automated tools and status updates to customers to keep them informed.

Managing risk, not limiting innovation

The manufacturing industry needs to be continually evaluating high risk areas and looking at how we can mitigate them. In addition to the examples above, feedback from security questionnaires required for customer RFPs can also be used to shape future security best practices.

When it comes to onboarding new customers, we’ve learned that discussions around security need to be covered off early in the process. Regular and clear communication across teams, coupled with comprehensive training and support documentation can help to avoid any delays during implementation.

The opportunities to monetise IP and data through digital manufacturing further recognise the value they can bring. While they need to be secure and protected, their benefits will be left untapped if a printer is left in its box due to IT security bottlenecks – something we still hear stories about.

Security will continue to remain essential to the success of digital and on-demand manufacturing, but it is important to remember that it doesn’t need to halt its progression.