How blockchain technology can transform the manufacturing industry

In the proverbial stadium that is emerging technology, the blockchain wave is catching on, and it’s changing the after-sales service game for the better. The tech itself is constantly evolving — be it developmental or the way it’s governed and regulated – and it’s set to be worth nearly $8B by 2024. And, as expected, blockchain is finding it’s way deeper into the supply chain. The distributed online ledger is continuing to be fine-tuned, and manufacturers have the potential to really capitalize on the opportunity the technology brings—to create a more transparent, accountable and efficient supply chain network than ever seen before.

One of the specific areas manufacturers are seeing initial blockchain benefits to their supply chains is in the tracking and certification of 3D-printed parts. Panelists at the Consensus 2018 conference ran down how blockchain technology creates an “immutable data source,” one that specifically identifies 3D-printed parts right down to the machine that made them, the technician who worked on them and even the atmospheric conditions under which they were produced.

The thought here is that organizations all throughout the supply chain could use that permanent data, shared on a common, unalterable ledger, to certify the origin of the printed parts, ensure they’re manufactured properly, and, best of all, quickly pinpoint the source of any product defects.

For after-sales service specifically, blockchain could help streamline the maintenance process. Up until this point, manufacturers have practiced a break-fix, reactive model of service, where maintenance is only performed after a break down has already occurred. But, with the accuracy and permanence of blockchain, manufacturers have an opportunity to shift from this break-fix model to a subscription-based model that focuses on maximizing product uptime, or preemptively replacing parts before they ever fail.

According to James Regenor, business unit director for transformative technologies at Moog Inc., it takes companies “months to go through papers to distill where the fault is.” But, with a single point of truth like blockchain – one that’s trusted and (ideally) unbiased – supply chains now have a trail back to the integrity and provenance of the part. We’ve already seen examples of this advantage in the food supply chain industry, like Chipotle’s recent E. Coli outbreak. By using this eponymous chain of events, the tech could be especially helpful in cases like this, where recalls or other food safety scenarios happen, allowing distributors to figure out the source of the defect before catastrophe strikes.

Manufacturers’ supply chains aren’t simple, and the same goes for the governance of any new technology like drones and 3D printing. The Consensus Panelists were quick to comment on the fact that most blockchain systems will require all parties involved to agree on how data is stored and shared across the network, creating a governance challenge that could take a while to perfect, along with any potential security issues that could arise as people move data among blockchains while preserving immutability. But, amidst the complex supply chains within these organizations, blockchain has the potential to help automate and monitor these manufacturing processes and ultimately ensure success and increase customer satisfaction.