Recently, there has been increasing connection between 3D printing and blockchain technology, in which a series of records are linked using cryptography. It’s a secure method of storing and transferring data, and certain 3D printing companies have recognized the efficacy of the technology in protecting the integrity and traceability of 3D printing processes. Particularly in industrial 3D printing, it’s vital that all 3D printing processes are traceable as well as secure, which is a challenge in an increasingly digital world. Blockchain makes it possible to securely record and transmit data related to these processes, and more than one company has taken notice.
The latest 3D printing company to express an interest in blockchain is GE, which recently filed a patent application for the use of blockchain in the use of verifying and validating 3D printed objects in its supply chain. The application was filed in December and was released last month by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
“Current systems for additive manufacturing lack verification and validation systems for ensuring that objects produced by the process are appropriately certified,” the patent application states. “If, for example, a replacement part for an industrial asset is possible to produce via an additive manufacturing process, any user with access to an appropriately configured additive manufacturing device can reproduce the part. End users who purchase or otherwise receive such a part [have] no way of verifying that a replacement part manufactured in this way was produced using a correct build file, using correct manufacturing media, and on a properly configured additive manufacturing device.”
GE believes that the use of blockchain technology could ensure that counterfeit parts are not being sold. The system would give all of GE’s additively manufactured parts a pedigree, so to speak, allowing them to be traced from design to production, as well as certifying the materials, machines and processes used. This isn’t the first time that GE has expressed interest in blockchain technology, either. Last year, the US Patent and Trademark Office released five GE patent applications, filed in 2016, relating to different blockchain applications for aircraft maintenance.
GE also announced earlier this year that it had joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), a blockchain consortium aimed at creating standards in the transportation and logistics industry.
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