In our last article on the application of blockchain, we looked in particular at three fields where blockchain can act as an enabler for industry: supply chain management, quality checks and the protection and monetising of intellectual property. We now focus on two areas in which blockchain could be a real game changer: machine-controlled maintenance and ‘machine as a service’.
Advancing machines as a service
Bartering, i.e. exchanging goods or services for other goods or services directly without any monetary exchange, is used by some communities in order to economically interact without relying on a financial system. Blockchain could be used to manage an industrial bartering system.
Today, blockchain enables manufacturers to make their production more flexible by sharing their machines and other resources with other companies when not in use. Some start-ups have already proposed creating a global decentralised just-in-time 4.0 factory by interconnecting 3D printers through a blockchain.
To do so, each unit of production time is tokenised, which means that it has a virtual representation that is stored and managed in a distributed ledger. When giving an amount of x hours/minutes of machine production to the community, members automatically gain the same amount of time that they could use for a similar service provided by another player of the network. This is managed programmatically, by source code that is also stored in the blockchain – so-called “smart contracts”.
In general, production machines always come with a maintenance plan. Often, the guarantees proposed by their manufacturers depend directly on the proper follow-up of maintenance work. Has the cleaning been efficiently done on the date mentioned on this sheet of paper? Who did the part replacement mentioned in this email? Now that machines could ‘talk’ by themselves, they are more and more capable to emit this kind of information automatically and record it on a blockchain where it will be unalterable and easily shared with their manufacturers and/or leasers. This will provide them with the most accurate information on the health of the machines for which they are responsible.
Conclusion: Multiple opportunities – and challenges
As we have just seen, there are many opportunities to use blockchain in order to digitalise industry further. Only the future and experiments that have taken and will take place will tell us which ones will have the most impact.
In order for industry to fully benefit from blockchain, a few pitfalls will have to be overcome. The proliferation of blockchain-based distributed ledgers, for instance, may require some companies to support several ledgers simultaneously. This complexity could be mitigated by ‘distributed ledger/blockchain as a service’ solutions.
Manufacturing industry needs standards, so each new solution that will be proposed to the market will have to be perfectly interoperable with existing ones to guarantee a seamless integration. Legacy systems (e.g. ERP, CRM and PLM) will have to be taken into account, as well as other trendy technologies such as the internet of things and artificial intelligence.
Luxembourg and industrial blockchains
At the time of writing, we have not yet identified any projects in Luxembourg aimed at putting blockchain at the service of manufacturing industries. However, the L-DIH is there to advice and support companies interested in venturing into this field. So, in case you are a player in the manufacturing industry curious to find out more about how you could benefit from blockchain, or an expert in the field wanting to connect with the industry in order to explore cooperation opportunities, please contact us to discuss further.
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18 November 2021.