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While cryptocurrencies are still fighting for ground in the world of currency, the underlying technology, blockchain, has made massive strides into mainstream acceptance. The technology can allow for the secure transfer and validation of data as well as an unbreakable traceable network – and it isn't just for banking.
Blockchain may be the future of smart manufacturing data
In essence, blockchain is an expandable list or cache of records that contain data that represents transactions from devices or members of a network. Called blocks, these transactions have a timestamp, are securely encrypted through a hash algorithm, and the network is interconnected through complex mathematics ensuring each transaction is in the right place. Another way of thinking of all of this is as a digital chain that can't be broken where each link is a valuable point of data.
Blockchain and manufacturing
As the manufacturing world transitions deeper into an era that is increasingly technology-driven, it means a wealth of proprietary and massively important manufacturing data is getting passed through digital systems. A design begins its phase in the digital realm with a designer, where it's created on a CAD program. In a blockchain system, the file would automatically record changes to the file in the blockchain, creating an unbreakable fingerprint of the file.
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After the design is complete, the designer or company might try sending the data to a manufacturer. It's during this send process that bad actors might be able to steal the data or corrupt the file if proper security measures aren't in place. If a bad actor does interfere in a blockchain system, then as soon as the data reaches the manufacturer, the receiving system would check back to the history stored in the blockchain ensuring that no changes have been made.
If changes are detected, then no blockchain fingerprint would appear on the received file signifying that the data was corrupted or stolen in some way. Take a look at this whole process in graphical form in the diagram below.
By utilizing a digital verification technique, the process of transmitting and interpreting manufacturing data would remove the human element. Designers and end users are often left to validate design and manufacturing data, leaving room for human error. When this entire transmission-reception-validation process is digitized and secured, it removes errors, saving time and money. According to NIST research associate Sylvere Krima,
"In other words, if I’m a manufacturer making a part for a product and I receive the specs for that part from the designer who’s upstream in the process, blockchain ensures that I can trust the data actually came from that person, is exactly what he or she sent, and was not interfered with during transmission. Because the chain is tamper resistant and the blocks are time stamped, a blockchain is a robust solution to authenticate data at any point during the product lifecycle."
Digital threats in the smart manufacturing space range from data theft to tampering to corruption. There's a need for security in the sector, and Blockchain can do just that – and do it well.
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To learn more about how blockchain might fit into the future of smart manufacturing, you can read the detailed study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology here.