NYU Team Gets NSF Grant to Turn CAD Files into Audio Files

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Computer-aided design (CAD) files have become one of the most valuable assets of engineers and experts in a great variety of fields, universities, and institutions all over the world. This means that they require protection from external threats like viruses or cybercriminals attempting to ‘hack’ the system. The evolving and innovative 3D printing industry is a huge consumer of everything CAD has to offer since CAD systems enable designers and users to create prototypes, models, and more. However,  the product design files could be at risk when being transferred from one user to another, which is why New York University researchers developed a system for converting CAD files to a frequency domain, allowing them to hide 3D designs in sound files and more, as well as letting people who receive the files extract specific design features in a way that is not feasible in the current CAD file formats.

Last August, Nikhil Gupta and Ramesh Karri, NYU Tandon School of Engineering professors of mechanical and aerospace engineering and electrical and computer engineering, respectively, have received a National Science Foundation (NSF) award of $242,697 in collaboration with the University of Delaware to advance work on their novel system which allows new possibilities and functionalities in CAD files. The project, which began on September 1, will run until August 31 of next year.

Despite the strategic role that CAD files play in the 3D printing field, designers develop, store, and use the CAD models as they do in any other manufacturing method. CAD systems have not evolved fast enough to keep pace with advances in printing and the increasing sophistication of hackers and counterfeiters set on disrupting the 3D printing supply chain or stealing intellectual property.

This study will research a novel method of imparting new functionalities in CAD models by converting them to the frequency domain using lossless algorithms— a class of data compression algorithms that allows the original data to be perfectly reconstructed from the compressed data —. According to the experts, the frequency-domain representation allows searching the files for specific design features of interest, which is not feasible in the current CAD file formats. Moreover, transformation to the frequency domain opens up possibilities for developing new compression and encryption methods.

The researchers will also work alongside Nektarios Tsoutsos, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Delaware, to perfect the method of converting CAD files to a frequency domain, just like a digital sound file, in a way that would allow end-users much more flexibility in how they slice and dice the files for printing.

“New generative design and multi-criteria optimization methods are revolutionizing the way designs are developed in the industry. These methods are also automating the design process, leading to thousands of design iterations in a short time. The new search, compression, and encryption methods will help designers deal with these files more efficiently and securely,” detailed Gupta.

A new method for converting CAD files for 3D printing to a frequency domain, just like a digital sound file

According to the abstract of the project presented at the NSF, the analysis will be conducted to determine the fundamental principles that lead to the lossless conversion of CAD files to the frequency domain and develop compression and encryption methods for the files. The project will help industries that are using additive manufacturing methods, such as the aerospace, automotive, medical and military equipment industries. The development of these unique capabilities will provide new opportunities for design, search, and security.

“Development of these new capabilities open doors to a host of possibilities beyond the critical design and search functions” Karri suggested.

Nikhil Gupta

Gupta’s research focuses on advanced materials, with current projects related to developing new security methods for 3D printing and ongoing research projects to improve manufacturability and security in additive manufacturing. A year ago, Gupta and a group of researchers at NYU Tandon came up with a new way to protect the integrity of parts by converting QR codes, bar codes, and other passive tags into 3D features hidden inside 3D printed objects. In 2017, he was also involved in a project to develop a new weapon against counterfeit 3D printed parts. Now, along with fellow colleague Karri, the two are changing the way cyber threats will be dealt with in CAD systems for AM in the future.

[Images: NYU]

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