This is the second of a two-part conversation with Gary Gereffi, director of the Global Value Chain Center at Duke University, on the future of global supply chains. In the first piece, we looked at the impact that protectionism is having on global value chains. Today, we focus on the impact of technology and the changing U.S.-China relationship.
BRINK: You’ve talked about how we should be thinking of value chains and supply chains in regional rather than global terms. Why?
Gary Gereffi: In complex industries, no single country has the capabilities to produce all of the parts of a product. If you take something like an automobile that has about 20,000 parts, the most efficient industries are actually set up on a regional basis. For example, the U.S. automobile industry is really a North American industry, where U.S. companies are very tightly intertwined with suppliers in Mexico, Canada and even Central America to form a regional supply chain that can produce a very large share of the components needed.
Trying to prove who designed and built what in 3D printing was envisaged as costly to major manufacturers, until now.
The amazing aspect of 3D printing is that anyone, anywhere, with the right equipment, can print and build an object almost identical to an already existing one.
While this sounds great in theory, for major manufacturers it creates one major headache: how do you prove a design is yours?
Not only that, but what liability does a company have if someone steals its design, creates a poorly made copy and it leads to a major accident?
Blockchain, the underlying technology of decentralized cryptocurrency Bitcoin, makes it possible for all members of a network to process transactions in a decentralized, transparent manner that is free from tampering. The technology stores a series of data sets, or blocks, containing transactional data, through an individual concatenation (hash values) on the preceding set. This forms a connection, or chain, between the blocks, which are then stored within the data set in a secure transfer.
Recently, we’ve been seeing increased interest in incorporating Blockchain technology into the 3D printing industry, from being used in a military testing capacity to storing data of 3D printed aircraft parts. A pair of researchers – Wjatscheslav Baumung from Germany’s Reutlingen Universityand Vladislav V. Fomin from both Vilnius University and Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania – are looking to increase efficiency in the 3D printing business world by incorporating Blockchain.
Industrial conglomerate General Electric (GE) wants to use a blockchain to verify 3D-printed parts in its supply chain, according to a recently-published patent filing.
Released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on June 21 and submitted last December, the application outlines a method for integrating blockchains into additive manufacturing – commonly known as 3-D printing – to create a database that validates and verifies the manufacturing process.
In other words, the technology would enable the company to create a blockchain-based manufacturing history that can help with tracking and authenticating 3D-printed objects.
At RAPID + TCT last week, additive manufacturing (AM) software solutions company, LINK3D announced the first ever integration of blockchain technology for AM in its flagship SaaS product, Digital Factory.
Building on the need for a traceable digital thread throughout the full AM workflow, LINK3D says the need for file integrity and traceability is a priority for AM processes. The integration will offer data governance, provenance, auditability and validation through a range of applications including:
- File integration, IP integrity, DRM: Blockchain technology can be used to track origination of each design file and its evolution.
- Facility matching / authentication: Service Bureau capability can be stored on Blockchain and orders can be pre-verified.
- Supply chain and logistics tracking: Once the part is shipped, the package can be tracked to ensure that it is opened by the correct parties.
- Real-time data from machines: Logs from machine can be stored in an immutable way for forensics during recalls and for traceability.
The U.S. Department of the Navy has revealed its interest in Blockchain as a technology to secure data transfer during additive manufacturing processes.
Blockchain technology is no longer restricted to FinTech, financial institutions, and cryptocurrency adepts. The range of its applications is so wide that the U.S. Army is also showing interest in this technology to accompany its own additive manufacturing enterprise.
Global information technology company Wipro is developing manufacturing applications that are built upon a blockchain and targeted at 3D printer systems.
A chain of blocks?
Speaking to Automation World, Wipro’s general manager and business unit leader – Sanjeev Ramakrishnan explains how Wipro has developed a blockchain system with four main offerings. These include measures for anti-counterfeiting, aerospace certification, supply chain and additive manufacturing.
Blockchain as a decentralized network, resilient to malicious data tampering is seen as advantageous for data security and integrity. With cybersecurity increasingly making headlines, such characteristics are understandably appealing.
Next generation cryptocurrencies such as the Ethereum platform have added another level of sophistication to blockchain, for example the ability to execute scripts that permit automated negotiation via smart contracts.
Wipro’s additive manufacturing arm, Wipro3D recently partnered with US 3D printing consultancy firm Print Form to expand the company’s global 3D printing operations.