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Industrial Giant GE Eyes Blockchain in Fight Against 3D-Printing Fakes

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.

Published 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 3D 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 3D 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

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GE's Transport Arm Joins Blockchain Consortium

General Electric has joined a blockchain consortium through its transportation division.

GE Transportation announced last Thursday that it had joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), which aims to develop standards around the tech’s use in the cargo transport industry. With the move, GE becomes the latest major firm to link up with the effort, joining a list that includes UPS, FedEx and the logistics arm of Chinese e-commerce company JD.com.

In statements, the company said that it joined the group as part of an effort to study possible applications of blockchain to its operations.

“As GE Transportation extends its capabilities into the broader supply chain, we’re connecting partners and customers at every node and across multiple modes,” Laurie Tolson, GE Transportation’s chief digital officer, said in a statement, adding:

“We look forward to bringing our applications to BiTA as we collectively seek to leverage the potential of blockchain across the industries we serve.”

CoinDesk has previously reported on GE’s publicly-acknowledged focus on blockchain by way of its intellectual property efforts.

Last year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office released five patent applications, all filed in 2016, which each described a different blockchain application to aid in the streamlining of aircraft maintenance.

GE included an option to pay relevant parties using cryptocurrencies or some other blockchain-based system, as previously reported.

Truck driving image via Shutterstock

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GE Patent Filings Hint at Blockchain Role in Aircraft Management

New patent filings from General Electric suggest that the U.S. conglomerate may be looking at blockchain as part of a wider aircraft monitoring and maintenance system.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published five applications from GE today, each of which focus on a concept for a “dynamic optimization” system that would touch multiple aspects of managing and operating aircraft, including maintenance services.

One component of that system, the applications indicate, would be a mechanism for parties involved in the aircraft oversight process. While noting that these entities would typically be paid through traditional finance channels, they suggest that cryptocurrencies – or some application of blockchain thereof – could facilitate such payouts instead.

“The delivery of the cash flows amongst stakeholders is certainly enabled with traditional debits and credits into financial accounts and may be implemented with crypto-currency mechanisms whose core logic is informed by precise allocation of cashflows,” the applications note – though they don’t include any other mention of the technology.

That GE would potentially investigate this area is perhaps unsurprising, given past developments from notable airline carriers. Earlier this year, Air France revealed that it was looking at blockchain as a way to track maintenance flows for its airplanes, with the idea being that the technology could underpin a shared database of update information.

Image Credit: Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.com

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.