Reverse engineering - defined as extracting information about a product from the product itself - is a design tactic commonly used in industry from competitive benchmarking to product imitation. While reverse engineering is a legitimate practice - as long as the product was legally obtained - innovative products are often reverse engineered at the expense of the pioneering company. However, by designing products with built-in barriers to reverse engineering, competitors are no longer able to effectively extract critical information from the product of interest. Enabling the quantification of barriers to reverse engineering, this dissertation presents a set of metrics and parameters that can be used to calculate the barrier to reverse engineer any product as well as the time required to do so. To the original designer, these numerical representations of the barrier and time can be used to strategically identify and improve product characteristics so as to increase the difficulty and time to reverse engineer them. On the other hand, these quantitative measures enable competitors who reverse engineer original designs to focus their efforts on products that will result in the greatest return on investment. In addition to metrics that estimate the reverse engineering barrier and time, this dissertation also presents a methodology to strategically plan for, select, design, and implement reverse engineering barriers. The methodology presented herein considers barrier development cost, barrier effectiveness in various product components, impact on performance, and return on investment. This process includes sensitivity analysis, modeling of the return on investment, and exploration of multiobjective design spaces. The effectiveness of the presented methodology is demonstrated by making a solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle difficult to reverse engineer. In the example, the propeller is selected to be the critical component where a series of voids are introduced to decrease the propeller weight and increase the flutter speed (a desirable attribute in propellers). Our tenet is that the use of such a framework contributes greatly to the sustainability of technological, economical, and security advantages enjoyed by those who developed the technology. Designers benefit because (i) products do not readily disclose trade secrets, (ii) competitive advantages can be maintained by impeding competitors from reverse engineering and imitating innovative products, and (iii) the return on investment can be increased.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Mechanical Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





reverse engineering, barriers to reverse engineering, product imitation, hardware imitation, counterfeit prevention, return on investment, microstructure sensitive design