The German government has set itself the goal of investigating and promoting the significance and applicability of blockchain-based approaches in an industrial environment. According to its national blockchain strategy, adopted in 2019, “Blockchain technology raises transparency, efficiency and security in many aspects of value chains.” Hamburg News presents two concrete use cases currently being tested in Hamburg.
SAMPL for counterfeit-proof 3D printing
Additive manufacturing processes such as 3D printing enable the rapid production of components, prototypes or spare parts. Material including metals, plastics and composite materials are applied layer by layer resulting in three-dimensional components. More and more industrial companies are recognizing the advantages of additive manufacturing, including lower costs, reduced inventories and production on demand. However, key issues surrounding licence management, copyright and copy protection for sensitive 3D data have to be clarified before production processes become more flexible and digitalized in terms of Industry 4.0.
“Chain of Trust” for 3D printing
The Secure Additive Manufacturing Platform (SAMPL) project is dedicated to this challenge. The goal is to develop a chain of trust for 3D printing from generating data, the exchange with 3D printing service providers up to printing components including RFID chip identification. The SAMPL consortium consists of seven instrumentalists including NXP Semiconductors Germany GmbH in Hamburg, Consider IT, the University of Hamburg and the Hamburg University of Technology.
Digital license management on the blockchain
The use of blockchain as part of SAMPL should allow “many parties to use and modify the data, but abuse must be avoided at the same time”, said Christopher Nigischer, Managing Director of the Hamburg-based Consider IT. “The decentralized data storage provided for in the blockchain helps reduce systemic risks, and documentation that cannot be manipulated retrospectively increases trust.” The blockchain maps transactions in terms of licensing.
Launched in 2016 with a volume of some EUR 4.2 million, the project received around EUR 2.4 million until 2019 from the German Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi). The collaboration with industry and users has continued since the project ended last autumn. Apart from aviation where additive manufacturing is gaining importance, SAMPL could have a positive impact on mechanical engineering, medical technology and the automotive industry, Nigischer added.
From DigitaP to digital memory
The Digital Product Memory for Product Protection (DigitaP) project at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg) also focuses on industrial 3D printing. Apart from identifying fraudulent copies (product memory), identity management is also crucial: “Technically, it is a matter of mapping real identities in the digital realm. In terms of applications, the question is how (spare) parts in a system can be both ‘new’ and legitimate or ‘old’ partner to to the system,” said Prof. Dr. Volker Skwarek, Project Co-ordinator at HAW.
A digital method involving particularly secure crypto chips and blockchain technology for marking products clearly and making them forgery-proof is being developed as part of the project. These tamper-proof technologies can secure the “digital memory of a product”. The blockchain system also foresees the use of smart contracts to track products transparently throughout their entire life cycle – beyond company boundaries. The German Ministry of Education and Research has put around EUR 300,000 towards the project underway from 2019 to 2021.
What is a blockchain?
A blockchain is a decentralized ledger that has a constantly growing list of transactions. The database is expanded chronologically in a linear fashion, comparable to a chain. New elements are constantly added at the lower end – hence the term “blockchain”. When a block is complete, the next is created. Each block contains a checksum of the previous block to protect the technology from manipulation.
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