Tech in Industry Report


Blockchain Technology to Support Distributed Manufacturing

Dr. Bina Ramamurthy, University at Buffalo
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Distributed manufacturing is the production of parts and components at distributed locations leveraging the local workforce, utilizing locally sourced resources and other local amenities such as space and power. The advent of the internet, cloud services, and 3D printing, along with standards and rapid growth in global demand, have propelled the importance of distributed manufacturing. The ongoing supply chain disruption and product availability delay further emphasize the critical role of distributed manufacturing.  

Traditionally, the raw material for manufacturing products will be sourced from various locations to a large central facility. In this case, centralized control and administration of the processes enable the manufacturing of the products. These manufactured parts and products are then shipped to the various distributed locations for sale and other downstream uses. The distributed manufacturing model cuts down the processes involved in transportation and gathering resources involved in centralized manufacturing.  

Here, we discuss the benefits and challenges of distributed manufacturing and how some of these significant challenges can be addressed using blockchain technology.

Benefits and Challenges of Distributed Manufacturing

The benefits of the distributed model are that it utilizes the local resources in raw materials and the local workforce. These two factors help minimize the transportation costs of raw materials and finished goods. Engagement of the commons and local workforce is a significant benefit that directly impacts people. Additive manufacturing helps small manufacturers to partake even with a few 3D printers. Some challenges include the trustlessness of the distributed environment, quality control, inability to control the processes, no supervision of central authority, and overall production monitoring.  

Blockchain can help address most of these challenges. Blockchain enables trust in a trustless environment by applying rules and policies to verify, validate and record the appropriate data. Blockchain uses an innovative concept called smart contract to embed the verification and validation of the authenticity of raw material and document the processes followed on the blockchain’s distributed ledger technology (DLT). Thus blockchain establishes trust by verification, validation, and recording on a distributed-immutable ledger.

Technologies Supporting Distributed Manufacturing

The technologies that enable distributed computing include the Internet, web 2.0 cloud-based computing services, distributed Information technology, and 3D printing and additive manufacturing. However, to address the challenges such as quality control, monitoring process control, and knock-off products, we need a newer and different technology. With its distributed ledger and smart-contract-based verification and validation, blockchain technology offers a perfect solution to address these challenges in distributed manufacturing.  

Blockchain and web3.0 operations carried out during the distributed manufacturing process can be verified, validated, and recorded. This recorded data can be used to verify the details about the product and whether it complied with the standards and other requirements. Another concern with distributed manufacturing is the control and management of intellectual property (IP), such as digital product design. Here again, encryption and decentralized identity of blockchain technology help thwart misuse of IP and use of the 3D digital print design beyond the limit allowed. These IP issues can be addressed using rules implemented on blockchain’s smart contracts. Thus smart contracts can codify the practices and regulations for managing and controlling distributed manufacturing.

Action Points for Businesses

An essential action item for businesses that want to consider this model includes educating and training the workforce and the administration about blockchain technology and web3.0 and their role in distributed and additive manufacturing. The information technology at the distributed manufacturing sites will have to evaluate incorporating blockchain technology in their operations.  

Besides blockchain, cryptocurrencies play an integral role in enabling the trust layer. Businesses should learn about integrating cryptocurrencies in daily operations for buying and selling products in a decentralized world. This feature will open up the products to a global market, but without the overheads of intermediaries.  

An ecosystem of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, and web3.0 is poised to play a vital role in the future of manufacturing. Businesses should prepare themselves for this essential technological evolution to be current. This effort is imperative to stay ahead of the significant advances in distributed manufacturing.

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