Friday, July 4, 2014

Blockchain, 3-D Printing Combine to Make Aircraft: Parts Moog, a designer of plane components, tests the two technologies in tandem to print parts on demand



Aircraft-component maker Moog Inc. is testing a combination of blockchain and 3-D printing to speed up the replacement of defective aircraft parts to a few hours from several days or even weeks.

The aircraft-parts market is heavily regulated, with sales requiring certification from the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies. That means it isn’t exactly known for speed.

The East Aurora, N.Y., company aims to demonstrate that putting together the two emerging technologies—the distributed ledger behind cryptocurrencies and the building of parts on demand from digital blueprints—could support a new type of digital marketplace for plane parts.

“The idea is that I’m going to stock those parts digitally and turn them into physical goods when I need them,” said George Small, Moog’s chief technology officer. “It is, in the end, just trying to identify what all the inefficiencies are in the existing supply chains and then offer opportunities for improvement,” he added.

Using blockchain cuts down on paperwork, letting a buyer locate a part and buy it immediately.

“I need something that replaces the paper trail, but in a way that still supports this digital model and being able to print parts on demand,” Mr. Small said.

Moog, which has about 13,000 employees and recorded revenue of $2.9 billion in the year ended in September, tested the combination of blockchain and 3-D printing earlier this year, allowing an airline to order a part for a plane while it was in the air and have the part installed when it landed.

In the test, Air New Zealand Ltd. used Moog’s blockchain system, VeriPart, to order a replacement protective part for an in-seat screen for a Boeing 777-300 as it was en route from Auckland to Los Angeles. Using the blockchain process, a maintenance team in New Zealand ordered a digital file containing the part design from Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd., a Singapore-based company that provides airline-repair services.

The order was validated on Moog’s blockchain system, hosted on Microsoft Corp. ’s Azure cloud. The part was then printed on a Moog 3-D printer in Los Angeles, sent to the airport and installed in the plane.

It usually takes weeks to get replacement aircraft parts from suppliers, said Samuel Engel, senior vice president at the aviation practice of consulting firm ICF International Inc.

Companies across industries have explored blockchain’s potential to authenticate transactions and streamline processes across large networks involving various partners.

Businesses are using 3-D printing to make airline parts, but connecting the technology to blockchain is a relatively new concept, said Michael Shanler, vice president and analyst at research and advisory firm Gartner Inc.

Within the airline-parts market, blockchain could not only share a digital ledger of transactions and trusted manufacturers, but also host information on material used for aircraft parts, such as specific plastics or metals, so the order could be redirected to a relevant 3-D printer.

Honeywell International Inc. has introduced a blockchain-based online marketplace that lets international buyers and sellers trade used aerospace parts in real time. General Electric Co. is using Microsoft’s Azure blockchain technologies to provide updated information on parts.

But there are challenges in creating decentralized digital marketplaces for aircraft parts.

“Moving to some kind of simplified international structure—there’s a lot independent systems and regulators that have to come on board,” Mr. Engel said.

Mr. Small said that for now, Moog is exploring the combination of 3-D printing and blockchain. An industrywide model could evolve over time, he added.

https://www.wsj.com

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