Blockchain technologies and distributed manufacturing ledger

Blockchain technologies and distributed manufacturing ledger

Data is a new oil. Slowly, but surely manufacturing companies and PLM software vendors are getting to the point when they will need to rethink the way product lifecycle data is captured, processed and used.

TechCrunch article – Toyota pushes into blockchain tech to enable the next generation of cars brings a very interesting perspective on how future communication between cars and manufacturing companies will be improved by blockchain technologies. One of the most interesting and fascinating examples related to so called “distributed ledger” – technology that can change the way data is shared and exchanged between distributed organizations, cars and objects. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

“Hundreds of billions of miles of human driving data may be needed to develop safe and reliable autonomous vehicles,” said Chris Ballinger, director of mobility services and chief financial officer at Toyota’s research institute, in a statement. “Blockchains and distributed ledgers may enable pooling data from vehicle owners, fleet managers, and manufacturers to shorten the time for reaching this goal, thereby bringing forward the safety, efficiency and convenience benefits of autonomous driving technology.”

Initially the research is focusing on sharing data on every trip that an autonomous vehicle takes; on developing tools that users can have to make ride-sharing easier; and to create new insurance products that are usage-based for customers who may prefer that coverage.

The news took me back to my last year blog – Product lifecycle, e-commerce and distributed ledger. I was sharing my thoughts how technologies such as blockchain and bitcoing technologies can potential transform product lifecycle and data communication. Today, successful product lifecycle implementations are for the best case capable to integrate between design, product data management and ERP applications.

But here is the thing… Everything related to ERP and PLM / ERP integration is in the stone age. It has clunky interfaces and outdated reporting capabilities. It is hard to use and extremely hard to integrate. Interoperability between PLM and ERP is very complex, therefore industry is spending so much effort on integration. How to transform data communication or even more how to take data communication to a global level?

Last week Jim Hepplemann of PTC was talking about “data as a new oil” and PLM / IoT technologies as a future data refineries. Very nice perspective. You can read more here. It made me think about how secure data sharing can change the way manufacturing processes will be organized. Most of data about product and manufacturing process is siloed in a separate databases. Even a single manufacturing company with 3-4 manufacturing locations might have several manufacturing databases located elsewhere and not synchronized. What can be said about ability to streamline processed and consumer such an important “new oil” – data, produced by companies and products (via IoT technologies).

You can create the best refinery to process data, but current technologies produce very limited possibility to use data and optimize processes. The beauty of oil is in its universal consumption. Our gas guzzling cars are hungry for more oil. The consumption mechanism is easy. What I can do with data collected from multiple products, PLM, ERP and other enterprise systems? Not much yet…

What is my conclusion? Manufacturing is more distributed these days than ever. Unfortunately, data and processes are holding back future development of this distributed manufacturing world. Current systems are clunky and coming from a last 20-30 years of enterprise software development where organizational databases was a king of technology and the focus was on how to control and centralized data in one company. It looks like the future will require to rethink these concepts and technologies to enable distributed manufacturing processes. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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