German Companies Team up to Create Traceable 3D Printing Filament

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Two German corporations, plastics manufacturer GRAFE GmbH and Tailorlux, a company specializing in making “optical fingerprints” for a variety of product classes, are collaborating on a new line of additive manufacturing (AM) filaments optimized for machine-readability. Tailorlux manufactures a “security pigment” called TailorSafe, as well as a handheld scanner, the Tailor-Scan 4, capable of detecting parts containing the pigment.

The underlying electronics tech can also be incorporated into 3D printers for in-situ verification. According to GRAFE, the company considers medical devices, specifically prostheses, as the most immediate target market for the application, but they also envision it having significant future branch-out potential, especially for any industry whose parts routinely require warranties.

Image courtesy of Tailorlux

In a press release about the partnership, Lars Schulze, the Head of Color Development and Material Sciences at GRAFE, explained the collaboration’s implications: “This means that the authenticity of licensed materials can be reliably and unmistakably determined already in the filament processed in this [AM] process. In the future, more and more products and spare parts will come from 3D printers. …If one now imagines that spare parts for licensed products are printed from inferior and untested material, recourse claims or warranty claims would be forfeited and, in the worst case, property damage or personal injury would occur. …Due to its nature, the marker offers perfect protection against counterfeiting and proof of originality.”

Image courtesy of GRAFE GmbH

While the medical device space would certainly be one of the most viable strategic fits for GRAFE’s traceable filaments, I think the company is also dead-on in prioritizing “system-relevant machine or automotive parts”. Generally, any industry that’s already a good candidate for digital inventory services — an AM market segment poised for takeoff, as Michael Molitch-Hou documented in a recent 3DPrint.comPRO article — is a perfect opportunity for GRAFE’s new product.

Also, as I described in a post published last fall, AM’s potential to combine with smart manufacturing principles for weeding fake parts out of critical supply chains could be an ideal killer app for the AM industry. Along those lines, the 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force is exactly the sort of organization that could take GRAFE’s filament and run with it.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect to these sorts of applications, though, is the fact that, once achieving this level of traceability becomes routine, the possibilities for data visibility are endless. The same functions that enable anti-counterfeiting measures, for instance, could be used to track parts’ life-cycles across every node in a supply chain. Anti-counterfeiting may be the impetus that brings these applications to scale, but once they’ve scaled up, improving industrial sustainability could easily become their biggest selling point.

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