Mary Scianna 2018Click image to enlargeThere’s a new concept circulating in the manufacturing industry: blockchain technology. Many say it’s the second generation of the digital revolution and the latest in Industry 4.0 tools. 

 

Originally created as a digital database for Bitcoin and other crypto currencies, the technology is essentially a public ledger of transactions (blocks) linked together in a “chain.” These constant transactional records, which can be openly shared among different users and are unchangeable, are managed and shared by a distributed network of computers that link all of the information together. The blockchain contains a true and verifiable record of every transaction ever made in the system. It’s a new way of storing and sharing information securely, and according to the 2014 World Economic Forum, 10 per cent of global GDP will be stored on the blockchain by 2027.

To date, the technology has been used primarily in the finance industry, but increasingly, manufacturers are exploring it for traceability to verify goods moving through the manufacturing supply chain.

Wipro is one company that has developed blockchain offerings for manufacturing. Wipro is an information technology, consulting and business process services company. In an online article in Automation World, Wipro’s Sanjeev Ramakrishnan explains the offerings:

  • anti-counterfeiting: products are registered on the blockchain registry with a unique ID, key attributes are scanned for authenticity at each point of the product’s journey and originality is checked based on matching of key attributes and ID tracking, preventing counterfeits from reaching point of sale;
  • airworthiness certificates: digital assets of airliner parts are tracked through the manufacturing lifecycle of the airplane, providing an automatic audit trail enabling anyone in the chain to track and trace the state of an asset;
  • additive manufacturing: 3D model files are shared using file sharing systems, creating a risk of IP theft - but with Wipro’s blockchain technology, the files are shared using secure blockchain tools, providing “an automatic audit trail enabling users to track and trace the state of an asset.”

There are increasing examples of manufacturers implementing blockchain technology. One, identified by the Blockchain Research Institute, is Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn. It has been experimenting with “advanced cryptographic techniques and decentralized networks” to build a relationship among its suppliers, partners, factories and customers.

Many describe this technology as the second generation of the internet, and according to the Blockchain Research Institute, “blockchain holds the potential to unleash countless new applications and as yet unrealized capabilities that have the potential to transform everything in the next 25 years.”

The technology is still in its infancy, but like other emerging technologies —think AI and additive manufacturing—blockchain could evolve to become a critical and strategic tool in strengthening your manufacturing business. SMT

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