A public network like the one we’re proposing would help potential clients find manufacturers with relevant expertise and equipment in an efficient way. (Credit: NC State)

Researchers are proposing the creation of a public, open-source network that uses blockchains — the technology behind cryptocurrencies — to share verifiable manufacturing data. The system could be used as a peer-to-peer network that allows companies to find small- and medium-sized manufacturers that are capable of producing specific components on a reliable basis.

Their approach, called FabRec, would allow companies to automatically report about their manufacturing activities: which machines are being used, what materials they are working with, raw material inventory levels, whether the work is being completed on time, and so on.

“Because these updates are automated, users can be fairly certain that the information is accurate,” says Atin Angrish, a PhD student at NC State and first author of the paper. “And because it’s being done through the blockchain, which allows event logs to be traced to their source, there is accountability. So, clients can find the right manufacturers, and manufacturers can find new clients, without relying solely on claims made in marketing materials.”

To demonstrate the viability of the concept, the researchers created a publicly-accessible, prototype network that currently accepts input from a handful of machines. The network shows that the concept is viable, but the next step would be to establish agreed-upon protocols with participating manufacturers, which would allow the creation of code that permits users to report — and search for — any given set of parameters, such as type of product, production time, cost, and so on.”