UK startup Autentica car parts is launching a marketplace for NFT-backed 3D printed parts for cars on November 1. Instead of shipping physical spare parts, a 3D model is sent to a nearby 3D printing service provider, who can create the part locally. Blockchain has been used for quite some time for authenticating 3D models. However, Autentica also uses it to protect the intellectual property of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
Without something like blockchain (plus additional safeguards), printing a 3D part can be risky. Imagine someone alters a 3D model, rendering the printed part unsafe, which then causes a car accident. It’s no wonder the first use of blockchain to verify 3D models was for aircraft parts where an accident has far greater consequences. In 2019, separate solutions from the US Air Force and GE Research emerged using blockchain to authenticate models.
How it works is conceptually quite simple. The model has a digital fingerprint or ‘hash’ which is stored on the blockchain. So if you check the model has the same fingerprint that the creator stored on the blockchain, you know it’s original.
However, whenever people create solutions to counterfeiting, fraudsters look for ways around it. Blockchain is not a guarantee. The key issue is ensuring that the person who put the hash on the blockchain is the original manufacturer or designer. That requires a marketplace like Autentica to take precautions when onboarding new model suppliers.
Autentica developed its solution in conjunction with the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and received funding from InnovateUK.
“The aftermarket in the automotive spare parts supply chain globally is facing several perennial challenges, such as costly warehouse storage of spare parts; high logistics costs due to time-intensive production and shipping; and low-risk resilience due to cross-border transport which can affect delivery times significantly,” said Irma Gilbert, CEO of Autentica Car Parts, as reported by local newspaper Warrington Worldwide.
“Digital technologies are catalysts in delivering a radical transformation to global supply chains by leveraging, among others, the power of automation, analytics and intelligence to improve efficiency, visibility, sustainability and resilience.”
Blockchain for IP protection?
We contacted Autentica to find out more about the blockchain and intellectual property protection, but we didn’t get a response in time for publication.
Autentica uses Oracle Blockchain, so that’s Hyperledger Fabric. And the newspaper article mentioned G-Code tokens for intellectual property protection. This would prevent the recipient from copying the model and printing an unlimited number of parts.
It’s likely the marketplace will provide encrypted 3D models. The NFT token enables the model to be decrypted and used once, maybe twice (in case of printing glitches). Another provider Ambitorio also created a token-based system for 3D printing / Additive Manufacturing.