Blockchain Enabled Data Network To Empower Manufacturers

Self-Reporting Manufacturing Machines

What if Machines could 'tweet' about its own capabilities, its performance and critical events in its life to the outside world? Sure one could program clever algorithms linked to Twitter to allow a machine to report its capabilities and critical events to its own twitter feed. Yet, how does the outside world 'trust' information posted about a machine's capabilities? After all, such information can be spoofed or simply false.

More fundamentally, why should a manufacturing machine, say a CNC machine or a 3D printer, report its own data to the outside world in the first place? Why would the owner of the machine allow such reporting of the machine's capabilities to the world-wide web for everyone to see. Couldn't such information be used against the owner of the machine? In certain types of manufacturing operations, this information can be used to either put the organization at an advantage or it may be detrimental during contract negotiations.

Job shops around the world spend a portion of their tight budgets (5%-10%) marketing their capabilities to potential new clients. This technical capability is projected in the form of presenting information on their organization's websites, at trade shows, running marketing campaigns, employing business development units, hosting future clients at their facility or pay sales consultants to help them obtain additional business from markets they do not have access to. Furthermore, they spend a significant portion of their time describing their capabilities, their past performance, demonstrating records of quality systems and the numerous other proofs that must be demonstrated before a significant contract is obtained.

What if we could automate all of this activity. What if a product designer in Boston can digitally ‘find’ and ‘trust’ a capable service provider in a rural region of North Carolina. What if we had a trusted information source in which a potential client can find the capabilities of a service provider - past performance records, assets in hand, asset performance from any service provider in the world. Such information cannot be hoarded in centralized middleware platforms or siloed within top tier organizations.

Our solution moves away from centralization of manufacturing data (eg. Manufacturing capability) to decentralized systems which would advance innovation, transparency and manufacturing search capabilities. This solution allows small manufacturers to be prosumers, the real-data owners, the decision with whom to share and the value created by sharing the data residing with the manufacturing data generator. This further incentivizes participation from manufacturers to take control of the data being shared for business value creation. This sharing of manufacturing data must be decentralized, its complete control residing with those who generate the data and incentivized to be made available to those who want access to the data.

Enter Blockchain Technologies and Smart Contracts

Blockchain technologies can enable manufacturing data (eg. Asset information, asset performance, Manufacturing capability) to be decentralized to help advance innovation, transparency and manufacturing search capabilities. We have built FabRec as a prototype demonstration to connect multiple manufacturing machines on a peer-to-peer network without any centralized authority limiting the access to information.

In FabRec, each participant on the decentralized network will have various roles and responsibilities which allows them to interact with other members of the permissioned network. A participant can be a human, manufacturing machines, a computing node or an agent representing an organization, with each participant having an address identifying the participant on the network. FabRec, while still being decentralized will have a functional organization to the various participants on the network. Figure 1, highlights a sample view of a decentralized manufacturing eco-system for the purposes of acquiring manufacturing job services from across the open market. Each main node on the network has a copy of all blocks as part of the permissioned network. The dashed lines indicate boundaries of trust that are typical in current IT installations. Data contained in the blockchain allows integration of data across these trust boundaries.

 

Each participant in the network has a unique address which identifies the participant on the network (Figure 1). Manufacturers in any part of the world with verified capabilities gain access to the network. Access is also granted to significant machine assets currently owned by the manufacturer. Other participants include verifiers such as ISO body quality certifiers that can independently verify the validity of a certification claim made by a manufacturer. Networks of machine asset builders can be part of the network either contributing data or simply gaining access to the data made available on the blockchain network. Users, such as designers who are seeking job shop service providers can be participants accessing information such as verifying the capabilities of a particular manufacturer or placing request for service claim on the network. Similarly, regulators and compliance agents can also verify claims made by manufacturers particularly in relation to regulated products such as medical implants, aerospace components etc.

A Simple Demo

To simulate the decentralized systems, we set up a blockchain network comprising 4 computers acting as nodes of the blockchain representing various fabrication service providers. We used ethereum as the blockchain platform for its ease of programming smart contracts. We had two systems connected to the Global Ethereum Ropsten TestNetwork. One was a CNC machine reporting events to its own smart contract deployed to the network. The other physical system was an Arduino Board with an LED light. Both physical systems are in completely different networks, simulating the scenario of interaction between organizations. This demo showcases the activation of the LED light whenever the CNC machine hits a milestone as verified by the smart contract deployed on to the network.

Blockchain Verified Twitter Feed of the CNC Machine

Our CNC machine has its own Twitter Feed - DIMECNC1 . You can track all of its previous transactions at its smart contract address on the Ethereum Ropsten Test Network. Smart Contract Transactions 

Read More technical details in our recently published paper on the topic:

A Case Study for Blockchain in Manufacturing: "FabRec": A Prototype for Peer-to-Peer Network of Manufacturing Nodes

Atin Angrish, Benjamin Craver, Mahmud Hasan, Binil Starly

https://arxiv.org/abs/1804.01083

Contact Us for more details.

bstarly@ncsu.edu