While three-dimensional printing has opened up new possibilities across a variety of sectors within manufacturing and R&D, the technology has also created opportunities for amateurs to print their own, typically untraceable, firearms. “3D printing opened another door for those kinds of unethical criminal activities. Anyone who can get gun designs online can make his own homemade 3D printed gun,” said Wenyao Xu, PhD, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. They’ve developed a new technology dubbed “PrinTracker” that they said can fingerprint the specific printer that a 3D printed item originated from, enabling law enforcement agencies to track the origin of 3D-printed guns, counterfeit products and other goods. Similar to common inkjet printers, 3D printers move back-and-fourth while printing an object. To test the new system, the researchers created five door keys from 14 common 3D printers, 10 of which are fused deposition modeling printers and four that are stereolithography printers. According to Xu, the researchers are currently working with 3D printing vendors in an effort to expand the study. “If in the future the technology evolves and becomes nanometer, how can we still find signatures from each 3D printer?” Xu added.

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