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Software is “eating the world” and tech has become an essential component of all industries, even those traditionally far removed from high-tech processes. The integration of tech into traditional industry is a key component of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or “Industry 4.0.”  Identify3D is at the forefront of this revolution, enabling industrial companies that suddenly find themselves in the information business to maintain control over their now digital assets.    I recently had the opportunity to sit down with co-founder and CEO, Joe Inkenbrandt, to learn more about how Identify3D is creating a digital thread for Industry 4.0.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution  

The digitization of traditional industries

The impetus behind the First Industrial Revolution was steam power. Electric power spawned the Second Industrial Revolution. Widespread use of electronics and information technology allowed for the automation of production during the Third. Now, we are witnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterized by the World Economic Forum as “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

Operating in Industry 4.0 requires that companies not only adjust to the digitization of information, products, and processes but that they also embrace emerging technologies like IoT and 3D printing.  Industry 4.0 requires smarter industrial workflows that leverage “digital twins”, automated factories, and near continuous cloud connectivity. While the potential efficiency gains are enormous, and the convergence of technologies allows for entirely new business possibilities, traditional industry players find themselves facing new challenges.  For example, protecting IP becomes more challenging when designs and specifications are distributed digitally, since it is particularly hard to prevent re-distribution and replication.

Creating a Digital Thread 

The founders of Identify3D recognized these new challenges and have created an integrated solution that allows companies to protect their IP and control the quality of digital assets throughout the digital manufacturing supply chain.  This allows companies to produce fully customized products at the time and place of need, eliminating now unnecessary steps in their supply chain without the risk of unauthorized distribution, transformation, replication, and production.

“Instead of running dedicated processes on dedicated lines, Identify3D allows companies to run small micro factories that manufacture products right at the point of demand”

– Joe Inkenbrandt, CEO and co-founder of Identify3D

Identify3D’s solution can be broken down into four components:

Secure digital manufacturing

  1. Identify: Enables computer-aided designs (CAD) to be encrypted and paired with business, design, and production rules.  For example, users can specify and control the manufacturing policy, production quantity, and expiration date of their designs.  These designs can then be sent to the point of demand for digital manufacturing (3D-printing, for example.) Specifications must be met, authorized, and authenticated before production is allowed to occur. This not only protects a designer’s IP, but also ensures production quality.

  2. Manage: These design files are securely encrypted and transferred to secure storage at the point of manufacture. When an order comes through, pre-specified permissions control distribution for a specific part and authorize only those users that meet specific criteria. This allows users to securely manage and authorize orders based on design rules and device certificates, enabling better traceability. Traceability is important for preventing counterfeits and expediting recalls.

  3. Enforce: Ensures security and integrity during production, through controller, device, and consumable authentication. Again, rules (such as materials and machine used, speed, temperature, and resolution) can be enforced to better control the production process. Finally, a detailed report is sent to the designer so that they can verify exactly what was printed and where it was printed.

  4. Analyze: This solution integrates into Computer Numerical Control (CNC) controllers to allow applications and devices to access data based on defined licensing policies.  Users can then conduct follow-up analytics to further optimize their production processes.

From Idea to Identify3D 

Co-founders Joe Inkenbrandt and Stephan Thomas

Identify3D co-founder and CEO, Joe Inkenbrandt, has twenty years of experience in hardware and software engineering, protocol security, and IP licensing.  After serving in the U.S. Navy, Mr. Inkenbrandt pursued a B.S. in Computer Engineering from Purdue University. Mr. Inkenbrandt went on to work at AMD and Sun Microsystems and joined Cryptography Research, later acquired by Rambus, as an early engineer. Throughout his career, he developed an expertise in security design, including protocol security for pay-tv DRM, industrial controls, and 2D-printers.

Following the acquisition of Cryptography Research, Mr.Inkenbrandt decided to pursue his Executive MBA at Berkeley-Haas. It was during his MBA, during a Silicon Valley Field Immersion, that the thought of being a founder first occurred to him.

Now I’m one of the featured entrepreneurs in UC Berkeley’s Silicon Valley Field Immersion, allowing me to inspire new students to become founders in the same way that I was inspired to launch Identify3D

– Joe Inkenbrandt, CEO and co-founder of Identify3D

Mr. Inkenbrandt invited current co-founder and CSO, Stephan Thomas, to join his team after 6-8 weeks of conversations aimed at making sure the pair was aligned on absolutely everything.  Mr. Thomas brings over 25 years of experience in operations, supply chain, M&A, and restructuring to the team, complementing Mr.Inkenbrandt’s engineering background.

“When looking for a co-founder, it’s important to take your time and to talk through the scenarios in which nothing goes to plan. Those are the kinds of conversations you need to have to find true alignment. Most of the time, people discuss what will happen when things go right, but what happens when they don’t?”

– Joe Inkenbrandt, CEO and co-founder of Identify3D

Redefining the Digital Supply Chain

The team is committed to creating a digital thread for digital manufacturing, helping companies to redefine their digital supply chains. The founders hope that Identify3D can enable Industry 4.0 in a manner similar to the way in which the shipping container enabled global trade. The contents of a shipping container are concealed from anyone other than the party that packed it, a critical component of a global trade network that requires transactions between parties that don’t trust each other. Similarly, the contents of secure zip files sent via Identify3D’s blockchain enabled solution are only viewable by those with explicit permission. In other words, both innovations provide security, accountability (traceability), and repeatability (standardization), removing barriers to adoption.

Ensuring these characteristics is particularly important to companies that want to adopt digital manufacturing, but are concerned with maintaining control over high value assets, brand reputation, and product integrity. These companies are found in the aerospace industry, where quality is mission critical; the automotive industry, where safety must be guaranteed; the defense industry, which requires security and encryption throughout all processes; and the medical devices industry, where the stakes are potentially even higher in the case of biological 3D-printing. Ultimately, this digital distribution and tracking of files for digital manufacturing could replace physical logistics. Identify3D estimates the size of its total addressable market to be $145B, equating to $5B-$8B in potential revenue per year.

Bridging the Gap

Source: Aberdeen

The company now has version one of the product ready to launch and plans to conduct several pilots next year. The company anticipates production contracts to hit in 2020, with a pipeline of about 30 companies roughly split between the aerospace, energy, and automotive industries. Identify3D faces a long B2B sales cycle, which can be 6-18 months, and some resistance to the adoption of digital manufacturing from established companies as it requires them to alter mission critical processes. The company’s +25 partnerships (including multiple with Seimens, EOS, SLM, Renishaw, AWS, Intel, and Materialise, among others) have helped lend credibility to Identify3D and to build the necessary trust.

The company’s solution is innovative and competition is limited. Larger incumbents such as Seimens have decided not to build these capabilities internally and therefore Identify3D works with these companies instead of competing against them. Start-up competitors include Leo Lane, Prostep, Grow, and 3dtrust. However, none of these companies are located in the U.S. (the U.S. government is a very large potential customer) and Identify3D is the only one that supports both additive and subtractive manufacturing and that offers a full product suite.

In the future, instead of all manufacturing processes occurring on one dedicated line, small “micro factories” will manufacture specific parts at the point of demand. Identify3D creates the digital thread needed to revolutionize digital supply chains so that this vision can become a reality, bridging the gap to Industry 4.0.

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