Here is the interview we did with Leo Petersen-Khmelnitski of Digital Assets Live discussing how we deployed a blockchain based aircraft parts tracking and anticounterfeiting solution, with SecureMarking and Lisa Butters from Honeywell Aerospace, in only 8 weeks. It highlights some of the challenges and benefits of using blockchain in this kind of production application.
Fast trace & track is a dream to anyone in high tech where parts are numerous and many. Digital Asset Live Editor-in-Chief talked to Mark Manning, iTRACE Founder. iTRACE has recently launched a blockchain based app to ensure traceability in the aerospace industry.
Q1: Ability to trace is one of the most used features of blockchain based systems. You have recently announced use of your app in aerospace industry. How does it work? Why an app?
A1: The mobile app is just part of a wider solution that incorporates SecureMarking ink, industrial printing and laser marking systems. The app is necessary to read our proprietary 2DMI marking technology that is the connection between the physical item and the digital ledger. The secure 2DMI Mark is applied to the product or component with standard laser marking systems or industrial printers, this is how the “digital twin” is created for each part. For track, trace and authentication the blockchain is pointless without a secure connection between the physical product and the digital ledger. Standard barcodes, QR-Codes and data matrix do not provide the level of authentication necessary to make the solution effective, so the iTRACE 2DMI Mark and app is necessary. The app works by capturing an image of the 2DMI Mark that provides an encrypted UID along with information about the scanning transaction such as product info, user data, geo-location information, date and time. All of that data is recorded on the digital ledger creating the irrefutable provenance of the item.
Q2: What are the benefits to users of your blockchain? Who are the users?
A2: We are blockchain agnostic in that we connect our technology to our clients blockchains or our own iTRACE blockchain if necessary. The benefit to the client is a fast deployment of track, trace and authentication within their own production and supply chain environment.For the aerospace application we went from a whiteboard discussion to production blockchain tracking in only 8 weeks! That kind of timeframe is unheard of in any industry let alone aerospace where new technologies can take years to adopt. The app users are anyone in the supply chain, manufacturing production and distribution, including end users. Each user can scan a part to record the transaction at that particular location and also get up to date authentication and provenance information about that part from the blockchain.
Q3: Which challenges did the aerospace industry present to blockchain and how did you overcome them?
A3: The aerospace industry has a very deep supply chain with very distributed suppliers and millions of parts. Tracking all of these different parts at different levels of the supply chain is an enormous challenge. Being able to drop a blockchain node at a supplier anywhere in the world and connect them easily with mobile apps, web based printers and imagers significantly lowers the barriers to participation. As aerospace is a highly regulated industry it is very difficult to get approval for changes to a part, so our technology needed to fit seamlessly with the existing processes as much as possible. We were able to integrate iTRACE 2DMI with the existing manufacturing equipment in the factories again reducing the cost of adoption for the manufacturer.
Q4: Does application of blockchain require introduction of unified standards in the global aerospace industry?
A4: Not in this case. With the iTRACE mobile app anyone can easily participate in track, trace and authentication without adopting a global standard. Different companies can adopt our technology and connect their blockchains together separately. Alternatively our blockchain gateway can push mobile app transaction information to multiple blockchains at the same time to provide part provenance across multiple companies. We are not tied to just one blockchain.
Q5: Tech giants such as Honeywell are your partners. What does their cost analysis say about reduction in costs once iTRACE has been implemented?
A5: Aside from the obvious paperwork reduction, the application is seen as a value add to the business and not just a cost reduction opportunity. Costs will come down but the biggest benefit will come from the control and visibility into the supply chain at levels never seen before. The trust that authenticated part provenance will bring to the brand will increase the value of the brand and the parts on the primary and secondary market.
Q6: Do you plan to expand and offer cooperation to other major players in the aerospace industry, such as Boeing and Airbus?
A6: This kind of expansion will come through the partnerships we develop in the industry with companies like Honeywell who already have great relationships with these manufacturers. Technologies like iTRACE and SecureMarking will deliver secure 2 Factor Authentication that will become essential as technologies like blockchain are more widely adopted.
Q7: Do you plan to expand to other industries, if yes, to which ones?
A7: We are already providing track, trace and authentication solutions in other industries. We are currently working with fashion accessory companies, industrial electronics providers and medical device manufacturers. Our technology is being used to secure the manufacturing in 4 Chinese watch making factories, controlling the production machinery to ensure product is not leaking out the back door feeding the counterfeit and grey market. Securing the product from the moment it is produced is the key to securing the rest of the supply chain with all of the control and visibility that comes with it. Without the production security that a technology like iTRACE brings, the blockchain is just another database of barcode scans without real authentication capabilities.
Q8: What is your vision to the future of iTRACE?
A8: iTRACE is partnering with companies like Honeywell and SecureMarking to deliver innovative supply chain security solutions to global brands. Our ability to provide provenance of parts, with or without blockchain, allows us to help companies of any size and complexity. As more companies realize the benefits of implementing technologies like blockchain to enhance their supply chains, creating a secure “digital twin” of the physical part will become critically important. iTRACE is able to secure products and components all the way from manufacturing to retail regardless of the digital ledger technology they chose to use and will expand to meet these needs as the application grow in the coming years.