The manufacturing industry is undergoing a seismic shift right now. So far, this has mainly been caused by the digital revolution, the rise of artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT). However, blockchain in manufacturing could help speed up the change.
The fourth industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0) enables manufacturers to harness information technology to their advantage. Not only can they gain greater visibility into their operations and processes, but they can speed up production times, improve customer support, and cut costs substantially as well.
With that in mind, here are at least five ways blockchain could contribute to the revolution.
1) Blockchain in manufacturing could revolutionise the supply chain
Currently, the technology that supports supply chain management is old. In the digital era, it struggles to keep up with the rhythm required by global market dynamics. For players in this industry, maintaining the efficiency of their operations is getting harder, as more data needs to be processed and analysed regularly.
Blockchain and distributed ledger technology can be useful in this regard since they can support a global supply chain with no need for middlemen. Besides cutting down costs, blockchain in manufacturing could provide a higher level of transparency and efficiency. It could also provide better communication between parties.
Key stakeholders can also access necessary data easier. All the information about the state and integrity of materials and products could be stored on the blockchain. This means that companies in the industry could collect, analyse, and use data along the whole supply chain to improve processes.
2) Blockchain technology and IoT could streamline manufacturing operations
IoT-driven technology and blockchain could speed up manufacturing operations for companies of all sizes. Manufacturers could store their data on the blockchain and use it to correlate their ERP systems with their suppliers’ systems.
This way, any connected machine that needs maintenance, for example, could simply use the internet to order a replacement part. It would reduce the time needed for engineers to install new pieces and restart production. This is just one example of how a connected manufacturing line could reach higher automation levels and reduce human interaction.
When a company connects its machines to the internet, it can gather, store, and analyse more data. This enables both predictive and prescriptive analytics. Managers can use this valuable information to identify bottlenecks and optimise processes for increased efficiency.
3) Manufacturers could give products a digital identity
In a blockchain-enabled world, manufacturers could use technology to give their products a digital identity. This would grant final customers access to all the information they need about the products they buy.
Crown, for instance, well-known for its creative packaging solutions, is now setting a new trend in the industry. The company is using blockchain and IoT to produce the first beverage cans with a unique digital identity.
Thanks to a code printed on the can, consumers can access the supply chain information. This is a first for the manufacturing industry. Such transparency facilitates interactions between sellers and buyers. It can also build deeper relationships between brands and their consumers based on trust, which ultimately generates brand loyalty.
4) Blockchain could secure 3D printing intellectual property
Over the past two years, 3D printing has seen an accelerated adoption in production, with an increase of 21% between 2017 and 2018.
However, as more companies start using it to accelerate product development and create prototypes, it becomes important to discuss how they can protect intellectual property in 3D printing.
While the issue may not be a priority for all businesses, for manufacturers that produce medical equipment, for example, plagiarism can place their business at risk. Blockchain technology could help to protect 3D printing intellectual property using smart contracts for complete safety.
Once stored on the blockchain, the license information could be accessed by the registered printer through a smart contract. Then, the serial number on each printed component could be written into the blockchain to prove the type and quantity of elements printed based on that specific licence.
5) Blockchain in manufacturing could improve data management
Currently, manufacturers are forced to manage their data across multiple systems, both in-house and through third-party providers. Overall, it’s an inefficient process that comes with security risks that can slow down business processes.
Companies could use the blockchain to store all their data in one place. They’d also get more accurate real-time insights, increasing the usability of their data. This way, they could gain a comprehensive understanding of their existing operations and see where to improve productivity and optimise workflows. And thanks to predictive analytics, they could even address problems before they arise.
Manufacturers that embrace change can benefit from new technology in more ways than one. The blockchain revolution may be mainly happening in white papers and documentation for now, but more and more companies are poised to disrupt the manufacturing industry. Those who embrace the change are more likely to survive as the fourth industrial revolution unfolds.