3D Printed Keys may Become the Next Big Security Device

Keys come in many shapes, sizes, and forms and have been around for a very long time.  From metal padlocks to electronic key-cards, the mechanism of these devices are all the same and hasn’t changed much over time, really. Whatever style of the key you look at they’re still mostly just pieces of metal with grooves, teeth, and indentations, which line in a keyway to move pins and levers and ultimately lock or unlock the mechanism.

Traditionally keys are made using techniques such as cutting or stamping, but now, there’s a new and improved way to do it and that’s through the use of 3D printing. One of the reasons this idea came about was because of how easy it easy to copy keys. You can now simply take a picture of a key using a smartphone, convert that image into a computer file that can be loaded into 3D printing software, and away you go!

The problem is that most hobbyist 3D printers use plastic to make items, but really to make a good solid key you need to use something a little stronger. That’s where the Stealth Key comes in. This new creation is printed using one of the toughest metals known to man – titanium.  Its stealth look hides it teeth under a pair of narrow ledges, making it unscannable yet fully operational to open the mechanism it’s intended for.

Mechanical engineer, Dr. Alejandro Ojeda, and Felix Reinhart, an expert on 3D printing metal teamed up to form a company called UrbanAlps. Together with a lock designer, Jiri Holder, the guys developed a key making process that uses a 3D printing system called selective laser melting (SLM). This system uses lasers to fuse metallic powder layers together to make up the object being printed.  It’s a pretty neat process but is incredibly slow and printing just one batch can take most of the day. But, at least that’s 850 different keys at one time.

To get your hands on a stealth key together with its lock mechanism, you’re looking at around $200.  Now, this may seem like a lot but the added security you get definitely makes them more attractive. The problem with that is if you do happen to lose your key you will have to wait another day to get a replacement. And, as only UrbanAlps will have the digital design file for the original, be prepared to go through a rigorous security check too.

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