A reader asks,
At COFES [conference], a guy from McKinsey asked me, "Why would blockchain would have material value over a typical distributed database?" Blockchain is most valuable where the transactions are between parties where there is limited trust and where maintaining a potentially public ledger is beneficial.
To what extent is that the case in CAD design? What exactly would you put in the blockchain?
-- J. P.
There is an issue in CAD revolving around IP [intellectual property] protection. Right now, the solution provided by CAD vendors is a form of design simplification. This function strips out details that a sub-contractor or manufacturer does not need to see.
For example, when a sub-contractor is providing a part that connects to a car engine, the engine designer might strip out the details of the engine's internals, leaving only the connection points for the part -- be it electrical, hydraulic, or mechanical.
The drawback is that this process of simplifying the model takes an extra step, as well as deciding which elements to remove.
(An even worse method of IP protection is to send uneditable PDF files. However, CAD programs today increasingly import vector elements of PDF files for editing.)
If CAD vendors were to use blockchains instead, users could track the individual parts of a model throughout the sub-contracting and manufacturing steps. In theory, if someone were to steal the IP, it could be traced -- in theory. Whether this would work in practice, I do not know -- just as "uneditable" PDF files don't work in practice.
I have worked on a couple of legal cases as an expert consultant where DWG files were alleged to be stolen. Inside DWG files are a few properties that could help prove theft -- but not to the CAD-untrained eyes of lawyers. Integrating blockchain inside DWG and other CAD files would be proof sufficient for a court of law.
This would apply to both MCAD (manufacturing) and AEC (construction of buildings).