- General Electric (GE) filed a patent to use a distributed ledger to trace and validate 3D printed parts in its supply chain, FreightWaves reported.
- "Advances in [3D printing] technology have increased the ability to perform these manufacturing processes faster and more accurately than ever before," according to the patent application. But "using arbitrary manufacturing equipment and material introduces certain technical challenges related to the verification and validation of constructed objects."
- The patent application does not explicitly say GE plans to use blockchain for verification. However, it does say "the distributed ledger may be a blockchain ledger" and hints the process "may include determining that the transaction is digitally signed by the author."
As 3D printed parts have become increasingly popular for small-parts manufacturers as well as consumers and individuals, it has become more difficult for big companies further up the supply chain — like GE — to validate the authenticity of those parts.
Using a distributed ledger like blockchain could help companies foolproof their supply chains and avoid counterfeits and faulty parts. Supply chains in a variety of industries are already experimenting with blockchain to find practical use cases to strengthen supply chain security and verify quality.
"The build file may include an identifier electronically signed by an author of the build file, and validating the build file may include accessing the distributed ledger to verify an authoring transaction between the author of the build file and the distributed ledger during creation of the build file," the application reads.
It goes on to elaborate that using a distributed ledger allows the manufacturer and the part's final destination to both electronically sign off on the part, thus verifying its authenticity.
According to the application, "Validating the build file and the material identifier via the distributed ledger may include determining whether data indicating a contract between the author of the build file and the origin of the particular lot of manufacturing media exists within the distributed ledger."
GE has been experimenting with 3D printing for a while, but using blockchain to streamline that integration into its supply chain further verifies blockchain as a useable technology that isn't just hype.
Some industries, like biopharma, are struggling to find a realistic use case for it, which might be because the technology has been overhyped and treated like an end-all, cure-all for supply chain ailments.
GE's patent application shows that there can be more specific, narrowly defined use cases for blockchain within supply chains.