Interreg, the European Union’s inter-regional initiative that aims to bring Industry 4.0 business solutions to the region, has developed a successful blockchain-based 3D printing solution that will enable cryptographic protection of 3D design files while helping to stimulate local economies by creating new manufacturing opportunities.
The collaboration has been made possible in partnership with Ambitorio, an intellectual property protection provider, and CoreLedger, a Crypto Valley-based blockchain infrastructure provider.
3D printing/additive manufacturing is one of the key Industry 4.0 technologies that will benefit greatly from advances in digitization and the further integration of manufacturing processes via the Internet of Things (IoT).
Instead of producing products centrally in a few places and transporting them worldwide, 3D printing will allow companies to securely transfer manufacturing information to any location with an appropriate 3D printer via the internet. Products can then be produced directly in the target market near the end-user.
This will help reduce logistic expenses and CO2 footprints, create sustainable local manufacturing solutions by reducing the need for cross-border transportation, and as products can be manufactured as required instead of in large stock amounts, both nations and businesses can save on capital and storage costs. It will also improve access to vital materials in times of need.
The Interreg project will also open new business opportunities within Europe and both create and save domestic jobs as it will prevent competition that chooses to favor employment in manufacturing hotspots like China. The initiative resolves one of the thorniest problems of 3D printing: ensuring intellectual property cannot be copied.
“We learned last year about the fragility of global supply chains, and nations are now looking inward to build domestic solutions to respond to supply and demand. 3D printing enables the production of more local and sustainably developed materials while reducing reliance on fractured supply chains. Until now, 3D printing manufacturers have faced challenges with the safe transfer of data and duplicating of blue-prints which have so far held the advancement of 3D printing initiatives back,” said Johannes Schweifer, CEO of CoreLedger.
To resolve this, Ambitorio uses blockchain technology to encrypt 3D printing files and govern their use. The token-based infrastructure will encrypt 3D printing files with access restricted to the intended recipient, only allowing for the secure transfer of data between peers and control of print runs.
While the law is trying to catch up to a major issue of 3D printing piracy, there have not been practical solutions to date. Cryptographically protecting additive manufacturing with blockchain technology will also enable owners of intellectual property rights to distribute designs based on their own value structure and needs, while also preventing the major risk of unauthorized designs being printed, like to-be-patented innovations, or weapons.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left the world severely impacted by broken supply chains, revealing weaknesses in intricately connected networks of trade. From vaccines to building materials and ventilators, manufacturing disruptions have highlighted the urgent need for countries to improve their own domestic production.
The Suez Canal debacle this year also highlighted how something as seemingly minor as one boat getting stuck for six days can cost global trade up to $10 billion, forcing both nations and manufacturers to look for more local and sustainable solutions.
A total of 24 partners in Europe are currently investigating the economic, legal and technical aspects of new 3D printing models across borders. The model will be used to examine and explore new global business models around 3D printing in fields including medicine, building, architecture, with more to be announced.
The move is a part of a global expansion towards Industry 4.0 that prioritizes innovation in automation, real-time data, and machine learning, creating sustainable solutions to global trade’s current problems.