Researchers Leverage Magnetics for 3D Printed Anti-Counterfeiting Devices


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A team of researchers from Texas A&M University recently developed a metal additive manufacturing (AM) application for embedded magnetic tags, intended to be used in industrial anti-counterfeiting measures. The results of the study were published in the December, 2022 edition of the academic journal Additive Manufacturing, in a paper entitled, “Embedding hidden information in additively manufactured metals via magnetic property grading for traceability.”

The increase of counterfeited goods across the globe is not a new trend, but the corporate interests most negatively affected by counterfeits have, in recent months, grown more vocal with their concerns about the problem. Additionally, this particular issue overlaps with the more general one of tracing the flow of goods throughout supply chains. That has also risen to the top of policymakers’ agendas — one of the countless macroeconomic consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The use of 3D printing to combat counterfeiting is also nothing new, although it has thus far been seen most often in polymer 3D printing, and typically involves printed QR codes or barcodes. The Texas A&M University team, on the other hand, used direct energy deposition (DED) AM to encode tiny magnetic tags inside an otherwise nonmagnetic steel part. The team also developed its own three-axis magnetic sensor, which was used as a way of quickly detecting the magnetized areas of the steel part.

In a Texas A&M University press release about the newly published study, one of the members of the research team, Dr. Daniel Salas Mula, explained, “Different approaches have been used to try to locally change the properties of the metals during the manufacturing process to be able to codify information within the part. This is the first time that magnetic properties of the material are being used in this way to introduce information within a nonmagnetic part, specifically for the 3D printing of metals.”

In the article’s abstract, its authors note that the same methods they demonstrated with the study could also be replicated to embed QR codes and bar codes away from the surface of printed metal parts. And, according to one of the project’s faculty investigators, Ibrahim Karaman (the department head of materials science and engineering and Chevron Professor I at Texas A&M), the project will continue with the development of methods for making the anti-counterfeiting devices even less susceptible to access from unwanted parties.

As I mentioned above, anti-counterfeiting technologies also overlap with the particular types of supply chain considerations that have gained increasing attention owing to the war in Ukraine: above all, tracing weapons provided by NATO to Ukraine, primarily in hopes of finding out how many are ending up in Russian hands. Presumably, the same solutions discovered in the Texas A&M project could be applied directly to this other set of policy objectives.

The other main area of concern related to Russia has to do with tracking shipments of oil and petroleum byproducts, which has become more difficult, the more that Russia pushes back against western sanctions by “going dark” with its fuel exports. The solutions that result from the Texas A&M project could make it much more difficult for black market sellers to try to pass off Russian fuel as having originated elsewhere.

Images courtesy of Texas A&M. and SmarTech Analysis are hosting Additive Manufacturing Strategies in New York City on February 7-9, 2023. Register for the event here to learn from and network with the most exciting companies and individuals in AM.

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