NIST engineers have made use of blockchain technology to secure digital manufacturing networks.
According to a new NIST report, blockchain not only provides tamper-proof transmission of manufacturing data, but also yields traceability of data to all participants in the production process.
“Because blockchain gives us both capabilities, we can build trustworthiness into digital manufacturing networks,” said NIST mechanical engineer and co-author Thomas Hedberg.
Blockchain, first used for Bitcoin a decade ago, is an expandable list of records, or blocks, that each contain data representing an individual transaction by members of a network.
Each block consists of the data set, a time stamp, a cryptographic hash and the hash of the previous block to mathematically link the two together.
This implies that each block in the chain is connected to the one after, the one before and all the way back to the original transaction known as the genesis block.
According to the engineers, the information contained in any block cannot be altered without changing all subsequent blocks and alerting the record-keepers in the network that foul play has occurred.
The digital thread was created to replace 2D design and fabrication information that has traditionally guided a product through its manufacturing lifecycle.
However, it requires humans to interpret, translate, re-enter and transmit data at each step.
Processes using the digital thread method rely instead on a set of 3D, digitized instructions that can be electronically exchanged and processed from start to finish, saving time, money and the risk of human error.
And because the steps in the process are aligned chronologically, blockchain is extremely well-suited to provide a digital thread network with the same protection it gives to cryptocurrencies.
Blockchain could also help reveal and deter threats related to product data theft, tampering and corruption.
The NIST report also details codes and statements in the Unified Modeling Language (UML), a standardized system for computer modeling, that are needed to successfully apply blockchain to a smart manufacturing network.
To further illustrate blockchain’s value to smart manufacturing, a second NIST report features case studies from different industrial sectors such as additive manufacturing, autonomous vehicles and pharmaceuticals.
Image and content: N. Hanacek/NIST