Industrial conglomerate General Electric (GE) wants to use a blockchain to verify 3D-printed parts in its supply chain, according to a recently-published patent filing.
Released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on June 21 and submitted last December, the application outlines a method for integrating blockchains into additive manufacturing – commonly known as 3-D printing – to create a database that validates and verifies the manufacturing process.
In other words, the technology would enable the company to create a blockchain-based manufacturing history that can help with tracking and authenticating 3D-printed objects.
The invention would tackle challenges existing in the current systems for additive manufacturing, which "lack verification and validation systems for ensuring that objects produced by the process are appropriately certified," according to the application.
Due to this issue, if a replacement part for an industrial asset is produced using an additive manufacturing process, anyone with access to a 3-D printer could reproduce that part. As a result, end users can't verify whether the replacement part "was produced using a correct build file, using correct manufacturing media, and on a properly configured additive manufacturing device."
GE states in the filing:
"It would therefore be desirable to provide systems and methods for implementing a historical data record of an additive manufacturing process with verification and validation capabilities that may be integrated into additive manufacturing devices."
The move is just the latest sign of interest in blockchain technology by the industrial behemoth. Last year, the USPTO released five patent applications, all filed in 2016, which each described a different blockchain application to aid in the streamlining of aircraft maintenance.
GE also announced in March that it had joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), a blockchain consortium that aims to develop standards around the tech's use in the cargo transport industry.
3D printer image via Shutterstock