It’s not often that we in the architectural hardware world get to talk about emerging technology and its potential for our sector. Yet as so many conversations currently turn towards blockchain technology – cited as the 4th industrial revolution – the opportunity to get involved in the subject has squarely presented itself. In this article we’d like to take a brief look at the use of 3D technology in today’s manufacturing world, and explore how this use could potentially evolve in a blockchain scenario.

3D Printing In Manufacturing

3D printing was one key technological innovation that initially showed potential for the manufacturing industry,. but in fact it’s been slow to gain adoption. To-date it represents only 0.01% of all manufacturing output (PWC Report 2017). The reason for this seems to be mainly economic – as yet it’s an unfeasible way to produce most parts currently manufactured in the world. The area where 3D printing has actually begun to make an impact is in the development of bespoke products. In this case the statistics are significantly in favour of the technology. The same PWC report reveals that 60% of 3D printed parts are for rapid prototypes. Why? Because it allows the specifier to identify issues and tweak products cost-effectively and in a timely manner.

3D Printing and Bespoke Architectural Hardware

It’s the second use-case of 3D printing that appeals to the demands of our business. Specialist architectural hardware businesses like John Planck Ltd have been quick to combine traditional skills with 3D technology mainly to meet the growing demands for bespoke architectural hardware. By developing onsite capabilities we are able to produce 3D rapid prototypes to help clients bring their ideas to life. This approach also allows for testing to take place onsite so we can ensure the product meets exacting standards before sending it to be manufactured by foundries – saving the client time and costs.

3D Printing and Blockchain

So what are the potential use cases for 3D printing in combination with blockchain, can this new technology help small to medium sized manufacturing companies improve on efficiency, cost-saving and production of prototypes without compromising on quality? Quite likely, yes. Blockchain was originally designed for Bitcoin (a digital currency now in its 8th year). It’s a digital filing system (often likened to a ledger) and is immutable, without a central authority. Whilst its application is proven in the cryptocurrency world, its use-potential beyond digital currency is what everyone is talking about.

3D Printing Supply Chain

One possible application based on a user case researched by Frankfurt School Blockchain Center (November 2017) cites Cognizant Technology Solutions’ blockchain application project. As proof of concept they are producing titanium cufflinks with a unique ID and digital product memory linked to data stored on the blockchain. It works like this: a designer registers their product design on the blockchain. To protect the design from plagiarism all data is encrypted. The design file uses smart contracts to automatically negotiate pricing, find the nearest and cheapest 3D printer and negotiate all conditions with the customer and the logistics service provider. All these steps are carried out without a middleman. After the order is produced, the blockchain provides a digital product memory, which includes the entire product history – i.e. the materials used in the production or the ownership of the product – enabling cost-saving when it comes to warranty, maintenance or recycling.

Can this concept translate to Ironmongery? Only time will tell if there is genuine potential for architectural hardware specialists to explore. In the meantime, the team at John Planck Ltd continue to focus on honing our craft using both traditional and modern technology to deliver ironmongery to the highest standards. If you like to learn more about our bespoke architectural hardware and our 3D printing capabilities please do get in touch!