General Electric, very involved in the development of additive manufacturing through its subsidiary GE Additive, has filed a patent concerning the use of the blockchain to certify the origin and quality of its 3D printed parts.
Securing additive manufacturing parts both to ensure the quality of manufacturing and to fight against counterfeiting or industrial espionage is a subject of importance for many industry players who are often high-tech industries. the added value of the medical, aeronautical or space sectors.
General Electric Motive
How to verify that a part has been made with the right file, the right materials, on a well-configured machine? How to make sure that the original file has not been looted, how to verify that a part comes from manufacturer X and is not an infringement?
To answer at least some of these questions, General Electric has decided to opt for a solution based on blockchain technology through this patent filed in December 2017 and published in June 2018.
The technology of the blockchain, which is, remember, a data storage and transmission system which contains in itself the history of exchanges made between its users and which has the distinction of operating without a central control body and without intermediary, allowing each user to check the entire chain, seems indeed a good support for the traceability and securing of manufacturing data.
What General Electric wants to secure
The goal for General Electric is twofold. On the one hand, ensure part of the quality certification of its parts and on the other hand to protect against counterfeiting. Thus, in addition to a traditional process tracking: file author, batch of materials used, configuration of printing, this technology would also track the data of the entire supply chain and record for example that there is well had “transaction” between the author of the 3D file and the manufacturer as well as between the manufacturer and the material suppliers. This in order to fight against possible counterfeits. Among the fears evoked by manufacturers, the ease of reproduction of the external appearance of a part through the resumption of the model file or by reverse engineering could bring on the market of spare parts,
Other systems exist
Several additive manufacturing players are already testing the blockchain to ensure the traceability of 3D printed parts: the French company 3Digit, for example, set up a blockchain system so that customers can check the conformity of the original model/part provided. Californian Cubichain has been testing the blockchain for several years now with several industries including CalRAM LLC, a company specializing in titanium 3D parts for the space industry. But we must not forget that alternative solutions are also developed.
Boeing, for example, announced last May that it will use the Israeli platform Assembrix to be able to securely share the digital files related to additive manufacturing between these teams and its customers. Assembrix is an online platform that relies on algorithmic ciphers to protect 3D files against interception, corruption, and decryption. We can also mention Identify3D, a Californian company that has created a secure online supply chain platform: the encrypted master files are associated with different license fees that determine on the one hand for users the number of parts that can be manufactured during a given period and on the other hand what equipment and resources must be used to make the part. According to the permissions granted to people, they can only access certain files and with the limits defined by the licenses.
Also published on Medium.