If you’ve been reading any tech material lately, you’ve likely heard of blockchain.
It’s a software technology that provides a highly secure – and completely distributed – way to keep track of things. The most prominent implementations of blockchain have been cryptocurrencies, where a code is used to represent cash. And it works much like cash: anonymous, secure and without any centralized mechanism to control it, like one would see with credit cards, for example.
However, this same technology can be used to create other types of distributed secure systems. Essentially blockchain can create a kind of digital “ledger” that persists without the need for a central server – and thus is beyond the control of any specific company or government, and is immune to hackers, as well.
Could a ledger of that type be useful for 3D printing?
I certainly think so.
Imagine a 3D printed part that is used in an application, perhaps inside a machine or vehicle. This part could have an indestructible secure digital ledger associated with it for the lifetime of that part.
What might you put in this super-ledger? Some ideas:
- The credentials of the designer
- The credentials of the maker
- The type of machine, and perhaps the specific machine on which it was made
- The list of materials used
- The specific batches and sources of materials used
- The date of production
- The date of usage
- The current owner of the part
- The past owners of the part
- The amount of usage withstood by the part to date
- The maximum stress, temperature or other factors incurred by the part to date
- The replacement date of the part (it’s useful lifetime)
- The status of the part; is it leased? Owned?
- How to find a replacement for this part
And so on. You get the idea.
For casual prototype parts, this may be of less interest, but I can well imagine for certain industries this type of information could be incredibly vital. An airline, for example, could track individual parts in airplanes in this manner digitally. I suspect they do so today, but in a far more manual approach that might be compromised when the equipment is sold to a secondary owner.
This information could be very valuable for diagnostic purposes as well. Should a machine be producing flawed parts, it could be traced using the ledger, for example. Previous owners could be contacted to review circumstances of use.
The possibilities are endless, and this could obviously be used for ANY kind of parts, let alone 3D printed parts.
The only implementation of blockchain I’ve seen so far in the 3D print space is from 3DTrust, a European firm that’s leveraging the magic of the blockchain to provide a secure method of streaming 3D prints. That’s quite different from what I am proposing here.
Will someone take up this opportunity and make it real? Of that I have no doubt. In fact, there are likely multiple startups working on this exact problem right now. Expect to see something applied to 3D prints in the near future.
Image Credit: Wikipedia