So far, in theory only
CIMdata held a Webinar last week on the potential use of blockchains by the design and manufacturing industries. I need to emphasize that no CAD or PLM vendor has implemented this technology, and so this seminar acted as an introduction to the topic. CIMdata hopes to form a working group to think about the subject some more, and help with the implementation.
The host of "Blockchain Technology and PLM Usage" Webinar was not ignorant of the subject. He has a six-GPU rig running in his garage and even posted his Bitcoin address for us to see.
The idea is that blockchains could be used to track all the steps of a part being produced, used, and discarded -- the usual PLM strategy. The benefit of using blockchain is that it records each step and the record cannot be monkeyed with. See the slide below.
With that intro, here is my record of the Q&A that followed the Webinar.
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Q: Is blockchain scalable?
A: Yes. Although the compute power required is high for currencies like Bitcoin, within enterprises it is probably acceptable. Some new technologies like etherium are trying to reduce the computational requirements.
Q: What is a practical example of blockchains for government compliance?
A: A blockchain records every transaction, and so your compliance actions would be recorded in the blockchain. The government would have access to it to test and verify through the blockchain's audit trail.
Ralph Grabowski: How much does blockchain technology slow down the manufacturing process?
A: I don't think normal usage will see a slowdown. You are going to have to work on some new applications and use-cases. We are replacing one database with another. This is not like the huge computing resources [typically room fulls of nVidia graphics boards] needed for mining increasingly-rare Bitcoins.
Q: How do you maintain blockchains for PLM -- internally or externally to the PLM service.
A: My vision is that it would be inside the PLM service. We haven't done it yet.
Q: Are you aware of any use cases outside of 3D printing?
A: One major [PLM] vendor we talked to is in the research stage.
Q: What manufacturing industries will benefit the most?
A: I see two: aerospace involved with FAA compliance and tracking parks; the other is the process industry, to trace back which machine created this particular part.
Q: Is blockchain only useful for tracking transactions, or can it be used for configurations?
A: [Both.] I am moving this part to production. As a part moves through processes, it is recorded.
Q: How easy is it to move from one blockchain provider to another?
A: I have never done that. I would think you have to do a validation check. As time goes on, we can expect more services from blockchain providers, kind like moving a database from IBM to Oracle.
Q: How does blockchain detect counterfeit parts?
A: Each transaction is recorded in the block, and each one is verified by the computation of the block before it moves to the next one. The user of the counterfeit part would have to be really fast to fool the system, such as 100x faster than all other users in the system.
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You can replay the presentation here (registration required): https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/7962664694494537473
Slide deck is here (PDF format): https://www.cimdata.com/images/Webinars//CIMdata_Webinar_8_February_2018.pdf