Additive Manufacturing & Digital Twins Powering Industry 4.0

It is not a question of if, but when Industry 4.0 (I4) happens en masse I4 or the fourth industrial revolution is part of the larger digital transformation already underway globally. Cyber-physical systems and information transparency are two key I4 tenets. Enabling technologies, like additive manufacturing and blockchain, are converging to immutably link physical products to its digital twin for the entire life of a product – from cradle to grave.

Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace

Aerospace is in the top six industries benefiting from additive manufacturing (AM) according to California Manufacturing Technology Consulting (CMTC). Deloitte forecasts AM annual growth of more than 12% to continue as it has since 2017. While initial capital outlay for AM is expensive, the downstream cost and productivity benefits are considerable, especially for aerospace where relative volumes are low, and complexity is high. Additionally, outsourced AM services are growing, further lowering barriers to entry for aerospace companies. AM benefits for aerospace include the following.

  • Reducing lead time for product development
  • Enabling more complex designs not well suited for traditional manufacturing
  • Less material waste than subtractive manufacturing
  • Faster replacement of complex or low availability parts

Digital Twins for Aerospace

A Digital Twin was originally defined as a digital model or simulation of physical product. Today, Digital Twin data encapsulates the complete life story of a product – 1) What is in it, 2) Where does it come from, and 3) What was done to it.

Authenticity, traceability, compliance, and cybersecurity are crucial in aerospace, regardless of how a product is manufactured. Blockchain, as a foundational technology, is well suited for authenticity and traceability needs, because the underlying cryptographic approach provides the following.

  • Like DNA, related subsequent data blocks, or child data, are cryptographically tied to their parent data.
  • Data blocks in blockchains cannot be edited or deleted, only appended.

3D models captured in encrypted blockchain can be used to compare against manufactured “as-built” products. For example, product dimensions can be verified in its entirety if products are scanned and compared against 3D design models as part of characteristics verification and validation. Models, test data and quality approvals are all digital artefacts captured as part of a product’s digital twin.

Blockchain, like traditional databases, is just one technology component in a software application solving a business need. It is already being used in production by aerospace and defence companies to ensure integrity of digital artefacts as well as securely share and collaborate.

  • Ensuring Integrity of Critical Digital Artefacts: Capture of CAD/CAM files, 3D models, AM printer parameters, process control monitors, powder details and certifications as part of the Digital Twin for AM products, immutably in blockchain.
  • Safe Sharing and Collaboration: Allows NIST Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) compliance and controlled access for authorized stakeholders.
  • Securing Global Supply Chains: Enables safe collaboration between customers, suppliers and internal teams.

Many aerospace products are mission-critical and complex. Teams needed to create, manufacture, deploy and service product are diverse and often geographically dispersed. The driving goals of Industry 4.0 are not dissimilar from previous industrial revolutions – reducing cost and time to create and operate product while maintaining quality. Additive manufacturing coupled with a digital twin, captured in blockchain, significantly moves aerospace closer to those better, faster, cheaper goals.