Disney engineers have invented interesting technology in an effort to stop counterfeiting of trademarked figures and toys.
In a patent application filed Jan. 21, Disney says it has developed a 3D printer and filament material that provides scanning protection for 3D printed products. A plastic compounded with a retroflective additive is used to make an anti-scanning filament. The technology requires some tinkering with the print head for heating the anti-scanning filament prior to extrusion to form a 3D object.
“Further, the 3D object includes one or more scan-protected exterior surfaces on at least one element of the 3D object. The scan protected exterior surfaces are either light-absorbing surfaces or reflect light in one or more unconventional directions.”
Retroreflective materials send light back toward a light source and are widely used in highway signs. Small glass beads and microprisms are often used in signs to provide retroreflectivity. Disney did not disclose the additive it may use, but there are chemicals such as fluorene monomer that can be used. Disney already has several patents for use of retroreflective materials in special effects for movies and toys. Disney also did not disclose the plastic, but ABS and polylactic acid (PLA) are commonly used in 3D printing.
The Internet is full of warnings about Disney counterfeiting. Here is one example: “Counterfeit products like Disney collectibles are everywhere. What really ‘hurts’ is when you pay a lot, just to find out that you paid for a fake item. With the present technology and skills of manufacturers, it is sometimes really hard to distinguish a fake item from a real one. Unless you are trained to look at authenticity indicators, or you have been collecting for years, you could definitely be deceived.”
What’s really fascinating about the patent application is the interest that Disney is showing in 3D printing as a way to make collectibles and other items. Plastic items in large quantities are usually made by injection molding. 3D printing is much slower and more expensive, but would allow more customization, and now, apparently, protection against counterfeiting.
Inventors of the technology include Jeff Vorhis, Executive R&D Imagineer, Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development and Jorge Alted, Alliance Development Studio Leader, Principal Manager at Walt Disney Imagineering.