Sanjay Gangal is the President of IBSystems, the parent company of AECCafe.com, MCADCafe, EDACafe.Com, GISCafe.Com, and ShareCG.Com.
Identify3D: Protecting Manufacturing Intellectual Assets
August 14th, 2019 by Sanjay Gangal
We recently had the opportunity to interview interviews Joe Inkenbrandt, CEO and co-founder of Identify3D. The company’s stated mission is to provide its customers with software solutions that address their security, IP, quality, authenticity, and traceability needs. Identify3D’s product suite encrypts, distributes, and traces the digital flow of parts, preventing counterfeits and ensuring that maliciously modified, substandard, or uncertified parts cannot enter the physical supply chain.
Sanjay Gangal: Can you provide some background information on Identify3D?
Joe Inkenbrandt: Identify3D is a software company dedicated to enabling digital distributed manufacturing, so we want to enable a world where when a customer orders a part, especially a high-value, high-precision part, that they can trust. Through a database of digital recipes, they can then have it manufactured on-demand. When the customer receives the part, he's very happy, but you've now eliminated a big, huge problematic physical supply chain, and so we dedicate our software to enabling that world.
SG: How and when did you get started?
JI: We started in 2014. Myself and my co-founder had a good idea for the company, we went out, and we talked to a lot of big potential energy and aerospace customers and started discussing, “What are you actually looking for in distributed manufacturing? What are the problems?” Based on those questions, we got started. About a year later, we got a really interesting pilot with a large industrial company, and we've been off to the races ever since.
SG: Identify3D is funded from various sources, correct?
JI: Yes, we're currently VC-funded, but we're actually funded both through a combination of VCs as well as strategic investors. We've gone through three rounds of funding, and we are now working up to our Series A which we're hoping to complete in Q1 of next year.
SG: Can you tell us some additional interesting things about your company?
JI: Our headquarters is in San Francisco, but almost half of our R&D team is actually in Lexington, Kentucky. We're about 22 employees right now and spread about half-and-half between the sites. We sell worldwide. We focus on both North America as well as Europe, so we sell where there's quite a bit of industrial manufacturing. We're starting to move a little bit into South America, and hopefully, next year we can start moving to Asia.
SG: With so many potential problems in manufacturing, is security one of the major problems the problems that you see, that you're trying to solve?
JI: Security is a huge problem, and one of our three major value propositions is security. There are two sides to the security issue. There's IP theft, which is traditionally where we come from. A lot of my team has come from digital media companies like Apple and Sun, that have really tackled it from just a pure IP digital media perspective. On the other hand, when we started working with the US government, it was particularly worried about malicious modification and the idea that a hostile hacker will come in, modify a part and take its service life down from 10,000 to 10 hours without anyone knowing, potentially taking down a fleet of government vehicles. Those are the two kinds of security that we provide. The data security that we really provide, is, again, protecting that IP to make sure that that a manufacturing recipe, basically your raw IP is not stolen, and that it is protected. That is what constitutes manufacturing integrity and what we uniquely provide.
SG: How does this cybersecurity system work?
JI: We provide tools, and these tools can create a secure container. It's a digital container. Think of it as a really sophisticated zip file, what you can do is you could put anything you would like into that container. You can put geometric or manufacturing data in a safe container, whatever you need to do the entire manufacturing process. So now, we're not tied to a standard format. We're finding a way to create that, and now it goes across all additive, subtractive, and all other of the digital manufacturing technologies. Our tools then also provide a way to make a digital policy around that container, so now, much like a shipping container where you can control how it moves through a physical supply system, our container, now you can control how it moves through the digital workflow. You can control and ensure that the necessary manufacturing capabilities are there. You can also make sure that security is enabled. This is a very powerful tool, so you can make sure that this digital life of the part is now protected from product lifecycle management (PLM) through enterprise resource planning (ERP) and digital warehousing all the way down to the shop floor, and, in many cases, directly all the way down to the machine to make ensure that everything is secure.
SG: I think you already touched upon some of these, but what are the chief benefits of the system?
JI: Security is a huge benefit of the system. But what we found, especially when we started doing our earlier work, was that a big part of the system of the requirements that our potential customers were looking for was not only the security but what comes with that is repeatability and data integrity. Now you can say when you make this container, you can not only say, “I want it to be secure,” but you can also make sure that you put all the necessary requirements. Now you have a standardized, secure way to move from PLM through a data resource warehouse. And now two years later and 10,000 miles away when that part's manufactured, all of that data's there, and it's repeatable just as when it was qualified. This repeatability and standardization are big deals. The third thing is now that we actually have software in each of these spots, now we can build a traceability, we can build a true digital twin. As an example, our software enables having a part that we can scan with an iPhone, can talk to our servers, and we can tell you exactly the digital version of that part, when it was moved into ERP, when it was ordered, when it was manufactured, and even the metrology data from manufacturing that part. So those would be the key benefits, is not only security, but repeatability, standardization, and traceability.
SG: What types of IP security problems do manufacturers face?
JI: IP security is a wide-ranging thing. If I ask three people what security is, I get three wildly different answers. But, when you start going down into IP, you have a few, you have just people now being able to steal a manufacturing process. And so many companies, especially for high-value, high-precision parts, there's millions of dollars in R&D that is now being stolen. In a pure-analog world, if I'm going to make an aircraft part in a “normal” way, I'll build a production line, I get it fully certified, and there's a lot of capital being spent on building up that line. In a digital manufacturing environment, now I can actually steal the IP straight from the manufacturing process. It's a lot more dangerous than just stealing a CAD file now, now it's I use this machine with this process with these settings, and all the way down. It's possible that you can steal millions of dollars in R&D and be able to replicate it with a high-end 3D printer. And so that's one of the IP issues we can solve. The other issue that we help address is pure counterfeiting. For example, if I have a manufacturer, and if I send an order for five, they print ten, and they send five back to the customer and then they sell the other five off to the side, that's a major problem. These are just two areas and there are many others, but when we start looking at IP those, those are the two that we really help address.
SG: Can you give us some real world examples how it has been used?
JI: One that's a little bit out of the security area and more into the repeatability side is one of our big energy customers that had a problem. They ordered parts, that needed to be manufactured in-house, at their own facility where they manufactured parts for a gas turbine. They shipped the gas turbine parts, installed them on the customer’s machine, and then two weeks later, their manufacturer called and said, “I'm sorry, those are bad parts.” We accidentally printed them with the wrong version of software on our printers. And so now this costs $200,000 because we had to schedule technicians to go out to the customers site, take down these turbines, pull the parts, replace, and reprint them. Since our system is now in place that can’t happen anymore. That's a real world example where the parts are not only secure so that customers can't steal, but the more important things that we're worried about is preventing these mistakes and making sure that things are done exactly how they're supposed to be done.
SG: What is the best way for people to find out more about Identify3D?
JI: Go to our website, www.identify3d.com. You can also email us. We're happy to set up demos and talk directly. We have several white papers on our website as well as some demos. If you're just looking for quick information go to the website, but feel free to reach out, email@example.com, and we'll be happy to figure out what we can do to help you.
SG: What is your exit strategy?
JI: We get asked that question a lot. We are a bit unique in that we're a startup that deals with very large corporations, so a lot of software startups are looking especially for B2C startups are looking for those billions of customers. We need approximately 20. That's not a ton, but our sales cycles are much longer. My goal right now is just to build value in the company and get those 20 customers. So, at this point getting those customers, getting them up to speed, building the value of the company, and the rest of that will take care of itself. We're not looking for an exit just yet by any means. We're just looking to make the company more interesting and viable.
I love this industry, though. I built this company not to become a billionaire, make millions, but because I love digital manufacturing, I love the digital world, but I also like how it marries with the physical, including 3D printing. If we are eventually acquired, I'll stay very attached and I'm sure I'll work with whomever we're acquired by.