Tracing ‘Untraceable’ 3D-Printed Guns


The great thing about 3D printing is how it allows for the nearly universal production of products and parts more quickly and often more cost-effectively than traditional production methods. The scary thing is that 3D printing, like any new technology, can also be used in a negative way. In this instance, we’re talking about the potential production of 3D-printed firearms.

In addition to the inability to properly register the guns and ensure they’re being sold to a legal user, these weapons have no serial number with which they could be identified. So, if harm came to anyone as a result of using a 3D-printed gun, legal authorities wouldn’t be able to rely upon a key piece of evidence in tying the culprit to his or her weapon.

Fortunately, that could be changing soon. A team of researchers from the University at Buffalo, Rutgers University, and Northeastern University has created a system called PrinTracker that can trace 3D-printed objects to their source. In addition to firearms, the system could also be used to identify counterfeit products.

According to University of Buffalo engineering professor Dr. Wenyao Xu, every 3D printer has a unique “fingerprint” of sorts. Using this special identification trait, PrinTracker can identify the source of any 3D-printed object after running a special algorithm against even the smallest section of the printed product.

These unique identifiers come from tiny imperfections stemming from factors like the printer’s model type, filament, and nozzle size. In tests using 14 different printers, the system was able to match a product with its correct printer of origin 99.8% of the time.

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