Interested in 3D Printing and Blockchain and how the two can converge? You’ve reached the right place. Bitcoin introduced us to the innovative blockchain technology. While simple at a first glance, this distributed ledger of records allowed people to do much more than just buy bitcoin. This tech has been adopted in a large number of industries, including healthcare, record keeping, supply chain, and the internet of things (IoT), among others.
In this article, we will explore how the blockchain ledger can be applied to 3D printing and whether it can bring new opportunities to this growing industry. To this end, we will explain some basics behind both of these technologies, how they work and where they converge.
We will see how blockchain can be used to fight counterfeit printing and allow companies to enforce copywriting of their printed products
Introduction to blockchain technology and its advantages
Blockchain technology was introduced to the public with the release of Bitcoin in 2009. This public and distributed ledger quickly saw many applications outside of cryptocurrencies. This is mainly because of the many incredible features this technology managed to bring, including:
- Transparency – blockchains are public networks and the ledger is accessible by anyone at any time. Because of this, it creates a trustless environment, where the observer can easily notice malicious actors and whether they have attempted to modify the distributed ledger.
- Decentralization – the main point of blockchain technology is to provide computing power in a decentralized manner. The point is to avoid governance from a central body. Instead, leave the control of the network to those that contribute to it.
- Immutability – The ledger is distributed to thousands (sometimes millions) of computers, and nodes can verify its veracity by comparing it to their own copy. This way, there’s no single point of failure, ensuring the data is immutable without proper consensus from at least 51% of the nodes securing the network.
- Automation – since the introduction of smart contracts, blockchains can be programmed to execute certain actions when a number of conditions are met. This allows us to limit human error at crucial points and accelerate tedious processes.
This technology is the main reason why the price of Bitcoin has risen more than a million percent in the past decade.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is the process of manufacturing solid objects (or parts of objects) by using specified equipment (3D printers) and digital files. Different materials such as plastics, filaments, or liquids are deposited layer by layer to obtain a solid object that can be used as-is or as a part of a more complex product.
This technology, while not entirely recent (it has been around since the 1970s), has seen incredible growth in the past few years. This is mainly due to the proliferation of powerful computers and accessible 3D printing equipment and materials.
Consequently, anyone with access to the original model’s CAD files and a 3D printer could theoretically print almost anything. This includes copyrighted and branded objects that could be easily duplicated with a 3D printer.
The application of 3D printing encompasses a wide range of industries, including healthcare, engineering, and security. As such, we can see how a problem of counterfeit items can emerge through this technology. Items could be counterfeit using lesser materials, creating safety issues for the end-user.
Imagine a COVID19 respirator that was 3D-printed using bootleg materials or pirated CAD files. The result could be disastrous, leading to the death of the patient. This is where blockchain technology can be life-saving.
3D Printing and Blockchain: How Can They Converge?
By now, you might be wondering how 3D Printing and blockchain might converge and overlap. Thanks to its immutable database, blockchain can provide increased security to the distributed 3D printing process.
CAD files can be cross-checked to ensure their integrity before they are printed. Every printer could be connected to the blockchain, ensuring it uses the right materials to print the end product. There are already studies being done about how to make this happen.
Moreover, in the case of distributed printing, where different facilities print different parts of a final product, blockchain can help with the traceability of the product. The tech can be used to have a better view of the entire supply chain, beginning from the supplier of the materials, to the hardware and software used, up to the end product and assembly. Every error can be easily recorded on the blockchain and corrected accordingly without disrupting the entire process.
Finally, every end-product can be registered on the blockchain, and proof of origin can be easily obtained by following its path on the ledger of transactions.
Blockchain and 3D printing seem to have been made for each other. The decentralized ledger and automation of smart contracts can greatly improve the end-to-end visibility of the printing process, starting from the filament, up to the end consumer. Moreover, blockchain can be used to enforce copyright on each part of the process, which could ultimately help fight counterfeit 3D printed objects. It can keep the CAD files safe from malicious actors, ensuring their integrity prior to production.
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