SIPRI report on 3D print (AM) and missile technology controls
new report

SIPRI report on 3D print (AM) and missile technology controls

A new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) explores application and control of 3D printing (AM) in missile manufacturing and the wider aerospace industry.

This new background paper by SIPRI takes stock of the 3D print technology’s current level of maturity and its spread in the aerospace sector. The technology of 3D printing, known officially as “additive manufacturing” (AM), is widely seen as disruptive. 

It has been hailed for its potential to revolutionize the manufacturing industry by transforming existing modes of production and sales and the transfer of goods and technologies in many industrial sectors. 

This new report critically examines the state of the technology and the extent to which AM poses a challenge to export controls, especially for missile technology. It explores the remaining hurdles of the technology as well as its current applications in missile manufacturing and the wider aerospace industry. 

Download the full SIPRI background paper online

One of the key challenges to export controls, according to the report, is that the capabilities of AM machines make it difficult to distinguish between those that are proliferation-relevant and those that are not. 

The report’s authors argue that a balance needs to be struck between creating barriers to proliferation and limiting the negative side effects these controls can have on legal trade and promising civilian applications of the technology. 

A key example of the difficulty of applying controls on the materials used in the AM process is controls on titanium powders, which are used for dental and other implants as well as by the defense and aerospace industry for airplane parts and possibly for missiles.

The report also explores how the implementation of controls on the digital transfer of build files poses a profound challenge to export controls. This presents issues for both companies and governments and sheds light on the increasing importance of cybersecurity for AM. Controlling the transfer of build files through audit and record-keeping requirements may, however, be one of the most effective ways to implement AM controls, if properly applied and enforced, states the report.

The report discusses the potential to advance controls on AM in three particular areas: 

  • Controls on the export of AM machines
  • Controls on the materials used in the AM process
  • Controls on the transfer of build files

Using this case study of AM technology, the report also highlights the challenge that intangible transfers of technology pose for export controls, and the need for effective dialog between national governments, companies, and export control regimes.

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