Blockchain: the backbone for Industry 4.0

The digitised world of the 4th industrial revolution is creating new business opportunities. Connected, flexible factories can respond to customer requirements and monitor products from the factory floor through to end of life. Big data can inform design and manufacturing processes. New technologies such as Additive Manufacturing (or 3D printing) and intelligent automation can broaden the horizons of what products could be created. Consequently, advances in IT systems have a huge role to play in supporting and improving advanced manufacturing intelligence; capturing, sharing and managing big data; supporting collaboration; increasing efficiency; speeding up innovation; and enabling new business models and technologies.

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The Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) is one of the UK’s High Value Manufacturing Catapults based at the University of Strathclyde. The centre there enables businesses to explore the opportunities of the 4th industrial revolution. Some examples of digital manufacturing technologies enterprises can explore at the centre are:

  • 3D CAD Modelling
  • Analysis methods (simulation)
  • CNC machine control
  • additive manufacture
  • AR
  • VR
  • Digital twin
  • cloud-based design and manufacturing

In November 2017 the UK Government released the Made Smarter Review document prepared on their behalf by the CEO of Siemens UK. The report identifies blockchain as a disruptive industrial digital technology (IDT), alongside Artificial Intelligence and Additive Manufacturing. The work undertaken for the Review found that the positive impact of faster innovation and adoption of IDTs could be as much as £455 billion for UK manufacturing over the next decade and that industrial productivity could be improved by more than 25% by 2025. A number of references are made to blockchain throughout the report. Blockchain is highlighted as an enabler for traceability across the whole supply chain and can be the backbone supporting the move away from traditional linear supply chains. With digital manufacturing being more at risk from cyber attack, cybersecurity, confidentiality and a single source of truth are important benefits that can be provided by blockchain.

“Participants in a Business-to-Business network might be extremely sensitive about how much information they share. With blockchain, a business network can be designed in a way that supports the confidentiality requirements, understanding which network participant has cyber-secure access to what data under which conditions.” Rory Ingram, Product Realisation Technical Lead, AFRC

Wallet.Services has developed a blockchain solution to transparently and securely track assets in multi-party supply chain environment. Our SICCAR platform allows organisations to collaborate on sensitive data processes and support multiple parties to work together with consensus, confidentiality, resiliency and scalability. All transactions about the asset are sequentially ordered, visible and immutable, creating a permanent tamper proof record – a single source of truth - for accountability. The data recorded is digital, and so eliminates the need for paper records. Reducing paperwork through digitally native processes in the oil and gas sector is predicted to reduce costs by 5%. In a multi $tn industry, that 5% is $bns saved. Blockchain also promises to save 20-30% in costs, versus a traditional IT set-up.

There are many other benefits of blockchain for complex multiparty supply chains. All parties in a manufacturing supply chain involved in safety, security and compliance add to a critical asset’s record, creating a traceable, timestamped, query-able history of the asset's whole life. This query-able Chain of Custody facilitates quality standards certification validation by third parties, & HSE compliance for suppliers and customers through secure sharing of data by multi-parties with different roles and work processes. Up-to-date and verifiable asset records reduce risks and ensure safety and order in commissioning, everyday operation, and decommissioning. Recalls of parts, field notices and safety alerts can be quickly implemented and corrective action comprehensively recorded on a tamper-proof blockchain.

Ingram concludes:

“At the AFRC, we see many opportunities for blockchain in digital manufacturing, and we look forward to working further with Wallet.Services and our other clients to explore the cross-sector applications of distributed ledger technologies”.