We have all heard of bitcoins and cryptocurrencies, of some people getting richer without any bank intermediation. The technology behind this – the blockchain – is transforming finance, but it can potentially revolutionise other industries too.
Blockchain basically blends peer-to-peer networks, distributed consensus algorithms, validity rules, ledger technologies and cryptography to record transactions between two parties in a secure, verifiable, and permanent way. It can be applied far beyond financial matters, adding value to any business where stakeholders’ relations are based on trust and may be entirely disintermediated.
What if the blockchain would support manufacturing and the Industry 4.0? Some experts have tried to explain its benefits for supply chain management, just to mention a case. All inter-company contracts and paperwork could be replaced by digital blocks: each time a document is shared, a block automatically adds to the previous one in a highly reliable chain. This could improve traceability along the supply chain, also enhance information security and reduce admin costs. Having such a transparent management system could be remarkably convenient when the supply chain involves multiple organisations in large geographies.
Another possible application is for plant monitoring and control. Blockchain allows manufacturing companies to move one step further predictive maintenance, making machines almost autonomous. Enterprise Asset Management solutions effectively contribute to minimize plant management costs and prevent production downtime. If integrated with blockchain technologies, they could enable direct, trusted exchanges with parts supplier: machines could place an order for their own replacement parts before they break, for instance.
Blockchain does have the right ingredients to evolve some of the most relevant processes for manufacturing companies, thus simplifying and securing many transactions among key industry stakeholders. It might be too early to estimate its business impact, but this technology is surely here to stay.