VeriTX, a B2B marketplace for Industry 4.0, has recently announced that it will leverage blockchain technology from Boston-based Algorand to develop a digital supply chain for aircraft parts. Algorand’s blockchain infrastructure will be used by VeriTX to build the solution focused at the commercial and military aerospace markets, which have largely relied on business systems developed in the 1980’s, until recently.
The need for improvement in commercial and defense aerospace manufacturing and supply chain has grown increasingly critical. Weighed down by delays, lack of transparency or tracking, long lead or delivery times for validated flight-critical components, the aerospace supply chain today involves significant additional costs and inefficiencies. In fact, the lack of ability to trace and verify the origin and authenticity of parts has led to counterfeit parts becoming a significant issue, and this issue alone costs the industry upwards of $3 billion.
For the aerospace industry—where a majority of parts are ordered traditionally, through printed catalogs and over the phone or fax—digital marketplaces powered by blockchain, such as VeriTX, promise to revolutionize the industry’s supply chain and its traditional business models. The company reports that, currently, less than 2% of aerospace supply chain transactions are done online.
The difference digital platforms such as VeriTX can make are significant. As one example, a metal component was required for an F-15 Eagle fighter jet. Instead of ordering it via the traditional printed catalog process, which would have taken an average of 265 days, it was ordered via VeriTX’s digital marketplace. The platform located a nearby supplier to 3D print the part and deliver within just six hours.
Similarly, another customer was supplied with a polymer 3D printed part in one hour, as opposed to 133 days, because the required design from the seller was obtained digitally and 3D printed at the airline’s own maintenance facility. In another case, a broken seat part was ordered and printed, while the commercial aircraft was in-flight, and replaced by the time the flight landed, reducing lead time by 50X, with over $30,000 saved as claimed by VeriTX.
The company has already won Air Force Challenges and Department of Defense contracts, in collaboration with development partner and blockchain development services provider Northern Block. The firm has also developed an ecosystem of partners that include Moog, Desktop Metal, Microsoft, Air New Zealand among others.
VeriTX’s solution could dramatically reduce Aircraft on Ground (AOG) time, and for the aerospace industry overall, will transform the traditional supply chain by digitizing and decentralizing it. Sellers will be required to design parts digitally, from idea to prototype, upload them with full specifications and part provenance included, and buyers can purchases these as digital assets which will then be 3D printed on-demand and at the point of use. Currently, VeriTX’s solutions are estimated by one Air Force maintenance commander to deliver 30% in cost savings, 90% reduction in waste, and a 25% increase in aircraft performance.
Algorand, founded by cryptography pioneer and Turing award winner Silvio Micali, is based on a pure proof-of-stake blockchain. This allows miners to mine or validate based on the percentage of coins they have. The platform processes 1000 transactions per second and provides distinct features to address major blockchain implementation issues in decentralization, scalability, and security. Earlier this month, one of Algorand’s advisors, economist Paul Milgrom, won the Nobel Prize.
“We chose Algorand as the blockchain infrastructure to power our platform, after looking at several technology providers and rigorous due diligence,” said Col James Allen Regenor, USAF (ret), VeriTX CEO. “Algorand was the ideal solution to onboard our ecosystem partners to the network, because of its flexible architecture, low transaction fees and transactional throughput scalability.
“What VeriTX is doing—removing friction from transactions—is Algorand’s primary mission. VeriTX is applying the technology in a very tangible way that showcases the power of blockchain to reinvent established industries like manufacturing in a decentralized manner,” said W. Sean Ford, COO of Algorand. “Taking out the middleman, VeriTX is connecting buyers and sellers directly to maximize efficiency and actively reshape the future of manufacturing.”
Last year, Moog, provider of precision aerospace control parts and systems, demonstrated a real-world application of its blockchain system, VeriPart, and the difference it could make in aircraft MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul). For a Boeing 777-300 flying from New Zealand to Los Angeles, USA (a flight time of 13 hours), a replacement for a seat screen component that was damaged was ordered mid-flight—yet there was no replacement part at the destination in Los Angeles. Singapore Technology Engineering Ltd, an aircraft repair services company, used Moog’s blockchain system to validate a new digital part design and then had it 3D printed in Los Angeles, ready for installation the moment the flight landed.
This sort of reduction in supply chain lead times from weeks to hours not only enables aircraft to stay in the air longer, but also securely automates the validation, tracking and reliability in aircraft component sourcing, maintenance, and replacement. San Francisco-based Fictiv’s prototyping through production platform is looking to do the same for digital workflows in 3D printing. And similarly to Moog, GE has explored the use of blockchain with its TruEngine program and Microsoft Azure, which tracks and verifies engine performance and maintenance, critical for engine re-sales. Honeywell Aerospace developed an in-house blockchain solution, GoDirect Trade, to make it easier and more secure for customers to order new or used aircraft parts.
Blockchain not only enables the tracking and replacement of new parts for those broken or worn out, but also makes tracing and eliminating poor quality or counterfeit parts possible. As 3D printing moves closer to a distributed manufacturing cloud model, blockchain not only helps protect IP but also provides a new, secure digital distribution, management, and transaction platform.
In the future, 3D printers connected to the cloud and IoT networks will mean that raw materials, designs, and printing capacity can be purchased using blockchain platforms, and then parts can be produced through networks of distributed manufacturing systems. While blockchain may be expensive to implement, scale and maintain, 3D printing makes connecting to blockchain easier and brings the costs down, as AM systems inherently include smart technology and part serialization in their digital manufacturing workflows. Companies such as Honeywell, GE, Moog, and others have already begun implementing blockchain beyond the aerospace supply chains and across other industries such as industrial, energy, healthcare and defense.
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