Anti-counterfeit tech developed for 3D-printed objects

Quantum dotsProducts made by 3D printing can be protected from counterfeiting using a nanoscale marker technology developed by researchers in the US.

The anti-counterfeit approach relies on the addition of tiny nanocrystals - known as quantum dots - that can be embedded within the 3D-printed object and produce a "unique, physically uncloneable signature known only to the … manufacturer," according to Texas company Quantum Materials Corp (QMC), which has licensed rights to the technology from Virginia Tech.

There has been an almost meteoric rise in 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) in recent years as the technology has evolved from use in prototyping to finished goods production.

While 3D printing is perceived as potentially  major source of counterfeiting itself - with Gartner recently predicting that it could result in the loss of $100bn-worth of intellectual property worldwide by 2018 - increased adoption of the technology among mainstream manufacturing will likely lead to growing demand for ways to protect products from copying.

"As 3D printing and additive manufacturing technology advances, its ubiquity allows for the easy pirating of protected designs," according to David Doderer, QMC's vice president of R&D.

Quantum dots are produced from semiconductor materials and emit light - in a range of colours depending on the size of the nanoparticles and the wavelength of light applied.

QMCs quantum dots can be applied and detected using a variety of methods and can even give off two different colours at once if a particular type - known as dual emission tetrapod quantum dots - is deployed.

"The remarkable number of variations of semiconductor nanomaterials properties QMC can manufacture, coupled with Virginia Tech’s anti-counterfeiting process design, combine to offer corporations extreme flexibility in designing physical cryptography systems to thwart counterfeiters," said Doderer.

QMC acquired the technology from the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and the Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) at Virginia Tech.

Other companies are looking into the use of quantum dots in the $57bn anti-counterfeit packaging arena, including Nanosys and Life Technologies which joined forces to develop their own product range in 2009, and Evident Technologies.

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