US Navy to employ blockchain to control 3D printers

The U.S Department of the Navy (DoN) has revealed plans to use a blockchain to control its 3D printers.

The U.S Navy is increasing its implementation of 3D printing and earlier this year ordered its first Concept Laser metal 3D printer and also recently produced its first 3D printed aircraft part.

Lieutenant Commander Jon McCarter has now revealed in a blog post that the DoN will begin trialling blockchain this summer before issuing a report in September on the proof-of-concept.

The difference between a centralized network and Blockchain. Image via U.S DoN.
The difference between a centralized network and Blockchain. Image via U.S DoN.

Decentralized network 

Blockchain is an example of a decentralized network which means data is shared across the network and not secured in one location. By having a distributed network in this way the Navy can “both securely share data between Additive Manufacturing sites, as well as help secure the digital thread of design and production.

The digital thread is the data concerned with manufacturing a part and is all the data that defines the manufactured part across its development – from design to final part production.

By outlining a component’s life in this way, the U.S Navy can assert greater security and control over the manufacturing process. Security is increasingly gaining attention within the 3D printing industry as the technology is used to make critical parts.

North Dakota State University’s (NDSU) Jeremy Straub explored this topic recently and outlined a process for enabling greater security during the printing process.

Members of the Meso-scale Robotic Locomotion Initiative display their 3D printed robot at the Pentagon’s 3D Print-a-Thon. Photo by Jason Meyer for the US Navy.

Why implement a blockchain system?

As the DoN advances its manufacturing supply chain with 3D printing, allowing it to be faster and closer to deployed forces, this simultaneously opens the door to a new attack vector.

This heightens “the need for a cryptographically secure, traceable, immutable, and controllable data flow.” The DoN’s LCDN Jon McCarter believes blockchain and Naval additive manufacturing are a perfect match since,

The ability to secure and securely share data throughout the manufacturing process (from design, prototyping, testing, production, and ultimately disposal) is critical to Additive Manufacturing and will form the foundation for future advanced manufacturing initiatives.

Demonstrating this, the U.S DoN recently held a 3D Print-a-Thon at the Pentagon in which 40 different Navy and Marine projects presented their innovative use of the technology.

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Featured image shows the USS Gerald R. Ford. Image via the U.S Navy.