DEVCOM’s Project Prime explores secure remote 3D printing for defense with DEFEND3D

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The U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) is leading a project that could allow soldiers to 3D print anything from food to shelters and weapons on the battlefields at home. coming.

Called Project Prime, DEVCOM is spearheading the project alongside the US Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the secure remote 3D printing transmission service DEFEND3D. The initiative is testing a deployable 3D printer with DEFEND3D’s Virtual Inventory Communication Interface (VICI) for secure, fast, and accurate printing in remote locations.

“Despite a network connection commercially classified as having weak or no connection, VICI facilitated fast, secure and accurate printing,” said Dr Patrick Fowler, DEVCOM Global Technology Advisor at ITC-UK. “Based on the expectations set at the start of the project, VICI did everything we needed, and the 7th SFG(A) was satisfied with the performance of the system and approved the capability for further development and implementation.”

Soldiers from 7th SFG(A) were a key part of Project Prime. Photo via US Army.

VICI from DEFEND3D

DEFEND3D’s technology is designed to securely transmit remote 3D printing and other digital manufacturing data via its patented security protocol, VICI. The main cybersecurity risks in 3D printing relate to intellectual property theft and process sabotage, with the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) first official additive manufacturing strategy being criticized by an independent watchdog who claimed technology creates “unnecessary cybersecurity risks”.

Equipped with one-click printing capability, VICI removes the need for file transfers by enabling secure digital replenishment of reproduction parts to remote locations. Rather than sending 3D files, DEFEND3D essentially allows a digital asset to be streamed live to the 3D printer in real time, providing only vital information to access before instantly deleting it. To do this, the platform issues a stream of reproduction instructions secured by six levels of security.

Essentially, VICI provides end-to-end encryption to allow organizations to store their designs locally on their home server while using their virtual inventory to manufacture parts in remote locations. All manufacturing work is logged through the interface to provide an audit trail throughout the digital supply chain, while variables such as machine settings and material types can be set to ensure compliance with manufacturing and quality standards.

DEFEND3D’s platform is designed for military, aerospace, defense or energy companies and organizations that want to deliver 3D printed parts to and from anywhere in the world while protecting their intellectual property and preventing cyberattacks .

The company first showcased its technology in September last year, revealing an ongoing partnership with the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) to test the VICI platform. The MOD hailed the platform’s “game-changing capability” in overcoming its current reluctance to send sensitive parts overseas, after the platform successfully linked a central design center in a secure facility with multiple deployed locations that do not have engineering specialists on hand.

DEFEND3D provides end-to-end encryption by allowing organizations to store their designs locally and use virtual inventory to manufacture pars in remote locations.  Image via US Army.
DEFEND3D provides end-to-end encryption by allowing organizations to store their designs locally and use virtual inventory to manufacture parts in remote locations. Image via US Army.

main project

Project Prime was launched after DEVCOM’s International Technology Centers (ITCs) identified and scouted DEFEND3D’s VICI as a potential vehicle to enable the deployment of additive manufacturing technology in remote locations, such as mining fields. battle.

Soldiers from 7th SFG(A) tested the VICI by repeatedly adding and printing additive manufacturing files via the platform’s One-Click-Print protocol. The project is based on the premise of a deployed soldier communicating a need for a CAD item spare or modification to 7th SFG(A). The CAD element then designs the part from scratch or chooses from a database of commonly used components before passing it to the soldier in the field, who can then 3D print the part.

Since the file is never sent, VICI would prevent hackers from accessing information and identifying vulnerabilities in US military equipment and capabilities.

“We have made it a priority to pursue avenues that will allow us to operate in environments that are not conducive to regular resupply efforts,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jesse Peters of the Innovation Cell of the 7th SFG(A). “To keep detachments fighting in these environments, we explored systems that work outside of conventional supply chains.

“Project Prime’s deployable 3D printer and VICI software allow for secure transmission and an easy-to-use interface.”

In addition to enabling secure transmission of files remotely, DEFEND3D’s VICI platform removes the need for the 3D printer user to be an expert in additive manufacturing in order to print the files.

The VICI interface also prevents overloading of the US Army’s network since forward deployed soldiers would only see the objects they requested for their mission. Files are also stored in a shareable repository, including files created by the DoD and its coalition networks.

“Imagine this scenario – a smart Green Beret on a remote base develops a new prop for an existing unmanned aircraft system, which is stored in VICI,” Fowler said. “Then a smart airman across the world on a remote airfield sees it and adds his touch. Then a British soldier prints it out and starts using it in his own operations.

Project Prime enables secure transmission of remote 3D printing.  Photo via US Army.
Project Prime enables secure transmission of remote 3D printing. Photo via US Army.

Feedback and future actions

During the Prime project, the VICI platform was tested under real conditions. Feedback was collected in real time as deployed soldiers communicated with 7th SFG(A) Innovation Cells, while other information was collected after the training was completed, such as the pros and cons of the system and its software interface, as well as the training requirements and the long-term sustainability of the technology.

As a result, the 7th SFG(A) plans to train more of its soldiers in the technology to support a U.S. Army Southern Command deployment. Once this deployment is complete, DEVCOM will compile the results and make Project Prime achievements available to the wider DoD community.

Project partners believe the information will benefit other DEVCOM centers and research labs, and may even fill gaps within other US Army units.

“We are seeking funding to further develop VICI to make it usable on a mobile phone or small device, including a Raspberry Pi, which is a very small computer that plugs into a computer monitor, TV, or small similar end-user devices,” Fowler added.

“This will make the solution, which is currently used on a laptop, even more deployable.”

Soldiers from 7th SFG(A) tested the technology by repeatedly adding and printing additive manufacturing files using Defend3D's VICI.  Photo via US Army.
Soldiers from 7th SFG(A) tested the technology by repeatedly adding and printing additive manufacturing files using Defend3D’s VICI. Photo via US Army.

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Featured image shows 7th SFG(A) soldiers were a key part of Project Prime. Photo via US Army.

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