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Digital platform for industrial 3D printing

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In recent years, additive manufacturing technology has experienced double-digit growth rates in various industrial sectors, such as automotive, aerospace and medical technology. This trend is expected to continue in the coming years.

Additive manufacturing: Rethinking production

The growing market for additive manufacturing can be attributed to three major advantages:

  • Components can be developed more efficiently, flexibly and cost-effectively, giving them new functions to meet new requirements. This ranges from compact designs through angled geometries inside the component to the smallest functional structures.
  • Spare parts can be manufactured to meet individual requirements that would have otherwise been difficult to obtain or have long delivery periods.
  • The economical production of individual parts and small quantities is possible. This has been an enormous challenge with other manufacturing processes so far.

In the Additive Manufacturing TechCenter, the German diversified industrial group thyssenkrupp offers consulting and design services, as well as the implementation of industrial 3D printing for internal and external industrial customers. At the beginning of the process, customers provide thyssenkrupp with plans for their components as CAD files. This data is valuable intellectual property for the companies as they are the basis for the production of the special components.

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As additive manufacturing and the digitalization of processes continue to grow, they pose new challenges for the manufacturing industry in terms of data protection and protection of intellectual property. The industry needs a decentralized solution that can ensure data sovereignty and traceability of data usage. This applies even more since manufacturing is becoming more and more decentralized, as it is conducted within global networks and parts are produced where they are needed.

Development of a digital additive manufacturing platform

As innovation driver, thyssenkrupp has taken the first step, developing a prototype together with IBM that builds the foundation for the further expansion of the platform. The combined use of IDS (Industrial Data Space) technology and IBM Blockchain is intended to enable a higher degree of automation within the additive manufacturing process, as well as provide data security and data sovereignty. On the one hand, this will enable smaller customers without previous expertise to access additive manufacturing quickly and easily, and on the other hand, the platform will enable better planning and a verifiable quality standard across the entire process chain. A key feature of the platform is thyssenkrupp’s integration of comprehensive industry-specific expertise in additive manufacturing technology. The platform is designed to deliver significantly increased efficiency, safety and expertise.

IBM Blockchain and International Data Space: A successful combination

The digital platform is based on two innovative technologies: The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric as blockchain technology for traceability and immutability of the individual interactions and process steps and Industrial Data Space (IDS) for secure data transfer.

The main feature of the IDS is that the owners of the data — such as companies that want to make their data available for digital services — can always retain control over the data and enforce their data protection requirements (keyword: “Privacy Enforcement”). The data are only exchanged if they are requested and approved by trusted, certified partners. Data security and data sovereignty are the essential characteristics of the Industrial Data Space.

Blockchain technology enables transparent and immutable documentation of individual transactions between various network members based on defined permissions. On the additive manufacturing platform, the consulting and design service provider selects the 3D print partner with a bidding procedure. With the help of a smart contract, the secure transfer of data via Industrial Data Space is released and initiated and the other bidders are automatically rejected after the contract has been awarded. Data generated during the printing process, the transfer of responsibilities in the process, and the release by the quality inspection are stored in the blockchain and can be retrieved in warranty cases. Blockchain technology creates a single source of truth on the platform, and makes business interactions traceable. This creates security and trust between all parties involved in the process.

Assessment of the benefits of an ecosystem

Unlike other traditional technologies, building a blockchain solution creates a business case not just for an organization, but for the ecosystem. The solution is successful if a sufficient number of members have an incentive to join the platform, creating a “network effect”. The minimum network size with the relevant players is called the Minimum Viable Ecosystem (MVE). IBM uses the Blockchain Value Design Method to determine the business value and market of a blockchain solution in the network.

The project with thyssenkrupp showed the possibilities for setting up an additive manufacturing network and how they benefit the individual members. Based on this, the most important participants (peers) were identified and the first potential partners for expanding the network and implementing additional use cases were approached. In the current project, the customer, the additive manufacturing engineering service provider and the printing service provider are implemented as peers. Future project phases will include the further development of the ecosystem and the extension of functionalities and use cases.

Fast results with agile project methods and a co-located project team

As with all technical developments, it is also indispensable in this project to focus the design on value it brings to the user. Even beginning in the first phase of this project, this was an essential component. In a joint Design Thinking Workshop, the respective participants in the process and the users of the application were brought into the focus of the discussion in order to define a value-added application case. This thought continued throughout the entire project. From the perspective of the users, the team was inspired by asking, “Which functionality is really necessary?” or “What is the associated value?”

The MVP was implemented within eight weeks in an agile, co-located project with a mixed team from thyssenkrupp and IBM. During the course of the project, thyssenkrupp took an iterative approach to define and specify the product requirements. After the two-week sprints, all stakeholders were informed about the progress in the respective sprint review and direct feedback was obtained for the development team so that their requirements could be implemented immediately.

With the successful completion of the joint project in March 2019 and the successful integration of Industrial Data Space and blockchain, thyssenkrupp and IBM are laying the foundation for the creation of a digital platform for handling industrial 3D printing orders. The results will be presented at the Hanover Fair in April and the team will be happy to answer any questions on site.

Visit us in Hall 7, Stand C16 at the Hannover Messe and learn first-hand how you can use the digital platform for industrial 3D printing for your company.

Project team members:

  • Joachim Stumpfe, thyssenkrupp, Product Owner
  • Andreas Stapelmann, thyssenkrupp, Stakeholder
  • Sarah Wiederkehr, IBM, Project Management/Blockchain Value Design
  • Neele Franke, IBM, Blockchain Value Design
  • Georg Schultz, IBM, Scrum Master
  • Eugen Luft, IBM, Blockchain Architect/Developer
  • Max Blanck, IBM, Developer
  • Hartwig Wutscher, IBM, Developer
  • Maximilian Henrich, IBM, UX Design
  • Vishal Chauhan, thyssenkrupp, Developer

From time to time, we invite industry thought leaders, academic experts and partners, to share their opinions and insights on current trends in blockchain to the Blockchain Pulse blog. While the opinions in these blog posts are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of IBM, this blog strives to welcome all points of view to the conversation.

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