Blockchain technology allows bitcoin owners to complete secure transactions without a bank playing the middle man. Bitcoin is just one of the many cryptocurrencies changing how people deal with their finances. Now, other industries are beginning to realize that blockchain can complete any digitized transfer of information and manufacturers are seeing how this could help realize Industry 4.0.
The fourth industrial revolution takes digitization one step further, strengthening the connection between the digital and physical world. Blockchain can advance this connection, making it easier for humans and machines to connect and understand each other.
Blockchain and manufacturing
Blockchain is essentially a peer-to-peer recordkeeping system that cannot be altered. It can reduce the amount of paperwork across the supply chain as manufacturers can convert important documents, such as legal papers, that could be lost when exchanged between companies, to simple automated files.
Each time a document is shared, it creates a block that attaches to previous blocks to form an easy-to-follow chain. This improves traceability in the supply chain as everyone can see where the information has gone.
Supply chains can span multiple locations worldwide and have many stages, making it difficult to trace every component and process of product development, manufacture and delivery. Blockchain can create a smarter, more secure supply chain because it provides a solid trail that is visible in real time.
A transparent, real time supply chain system allows manufacturers to detect and address any problems quickly, whether it is a mistake with a product or a breach in security. This reduces the likelihood of expensive product recalls.
Keeping information secure is vital in manufacturing and, unfortunately, cyber-attacks are becoming a common threat.
Hackers can easily hide their presence in a system for a long time before actually attacking and without frequent updates, anti-virus software can be easy to outsmart.
Blockchain could be the answer to this problem. Supply chain partners can check product and process authenticity at any stage because of the easily visible chain of documents and processes. Blockchain is also constantly evolving. It is possible for someone to break in to a block, but by the time they do, multiple new blocks have been created.
Technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that it can be difficult for plant managers to ensure they have the most up to date technology. It is also challenging to properly maintain technology at this volume.
As machines become more intelligent, they can learn to diagnose themselves and alert staff of any issues that could lead to expensive downtime. Blockchain can take this further, making machines more autonomous. Manufacturers can add blockchain between the enterprise resource planning (ERP) at the plant and the parts supplier. Then, the machines can autonomously place an order for their own replacement parts before they break.
While bitcoin keeps creating millionaires across the world, where it fits in the future of manufacturing is less defined. However, Blockchain does have the potential to benefit manufacturing companies, their suppliers and their customers by simplifying and securing many processes in the supply chain. Using blockchain outside of the financial sector is still in early stages, but it looks like the technology is here to stay.
Jonathan Wilkins is marketing director of EU Automation