You may know it simply as the digital backbone behind crypto currencies, but to its champions in the aerospace arena, blockchain represents a major disruptor advancing Industry 4.0, and some see Farnborough International Airshow (FIA) 2018 as its coming out party. “Last year in Paris [at the airshow] we said, ‘Blockchain is coming,’” said Craig Gottlieb, a principal director in Accenture’s Aerospace & Defense practice. “The message at Farnborough is, ‘Guess what? It’s here, folks.’”
Blockchain is a distributed ledger that maintains and records data in a way that allows multiple stakeholders to share access to the same information confidently and securely.
A pair of recent reports from consultancy Accenture (Chalet A21) examines blockchain’s potential impacts and benefits in the aerospace industry. According to “Extending the Digital Thread With Blockchain," co-authored by Gottlieb, “Blockchain, digital twins, and digital threads are coalescing into a powerful combination of technologies that will launch the industry to higher levels of performance, data veracity, security, and efficiency.”
Bolstering that assertion, approximately six in seven aerospace/defense companies (86 percent) expect to integrate blockchain into their corporate systems by 2021, according to Accenture’s “Launchpad to Relevance: Aerospace & Defense Technology Vision 2018” report. Released in June, the Vision 2018 research concludes blockchain’s secure, immutable, and decentralized features can help aerospace companies reduce maintenance costs, increase aircraft availability, and minimize errors in tracking aircraft parts, among other benefits.
The industry’s seeming confidence in blockchain’s future appears based in part on fear. More than two-thirds (70 percent) of the aerospace and defense executives surveyed for the report believe that companies will be grappling with growing waves of corrupted insights as more falsified data infiltrates their data-driven information systems. Almost three-quarters (73 percent) believe automated systems create new risks, including fake data, data manipulation, and inherent bias. Blockchain addresses these concerns, according to Accenture.
“If you’re an OEM, a Tier 1, 2 or 3 supplier, or operating in the aftermarket, you can be touched by blockchain,” Gottlieb said. “It could sound like pie in the sky, but blockchain doesn’t need a significant IT investment. You can be a mom-and-pop forging shop and register your product into blockchain. It’s a relatively low cost of entry.”
Accenture is showcasing at its display potential aerospace applications and solutions created for clients including Thales, which uses blockchain to track cabin components it manufactures. An example on display tracks a sealed circuit board through a simulated international shipment, and demonstrates “the physical manifestation of the end-to-end process, how it’s registered in the blockchain, the application layer, and the user interface,” said Gottlieb.
Compared to traditional approaches to data sharing and security, “blockchain is the more exciting; it offers the flexibility of keeping the data closer to the source, and with the cryptography involved, we believe it provides distinct advantages,” Gottlieb said.
Accenture hopes its thought leadership will make it the go-to service provider in the arena.
“We can help clients establish and manage blockchain ecosystems, creating the technology infrastructure to establish the process and mechanism for ‘data veracity,’ the trustworthiness of data you’re building decisions on,” he said. These are areas of expertise beyond most corporate IT departments, according to Gottlieb.
“Many, many applications exist to create your blockchain,” he continued. “It's built within a set of what we loosely call products: Ethereum, Hperledger, Ripple. Then you need to platform it: Are you putting it in MS Azure, into SAP, Amazon, or another blockchain service? It’s work,” he concluded of the process. “I don’t think it’s a do-it-yourself kind of thing. At the end of the day you’ve got to deliver an outcome to the people using it, and outcomes is the business we’re in.”