Hannover Messe: Blockchain is given a supporting role, but offers a convincing performance

Hannover Messe: Blockchain is given a supporting role, but offers a convincing performance

Hannover Messe (April 23-27) is the most important showcase for the global manufacturing industry. The trade fair this year has shown that the performance of machines and systems is increasingly determined by IT and software. And for the first time, the use of blockchain in production has played a part, too – even though it was just a minor one, its huge potential has become pretty clear.

The dominant topic of this year's Hannover Messe has certainly been the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and its sub-topics, such as predictive maintenance, artificial intelligence, data analytics, digital twins, additive manufacturing, etc.

With regard to blockchain, there were only a few companies presenting blockchain as a technical solution for the manufacturing industry. At our fair visit, we talked to some of these providers to learn more about their current activities and uses cases:

T-Systems MMS is pushing the use of blockchain together with T-Labs and Detecon. T-Systems is currently focusing on the Ethereum platform, but is also observing the developments around Hyperledger Fabric. Early use cases presented at Hannover Messe include solutions for the supply chain (traceability of goods), for document management in logistics and for a smart city platform, allowing providers, e.g. of mobilty services, to integrate these offerings to provide clients and citizens with a single point of contact for issues like registration, identity management and billing.

Fujitsu takes a different approach with regard to the underlying technology and is placing its bets on the relatively recent IOTA platform, a particularly suitable technology for use in IoT environments. IOTA differs from the traditional blockchain technology in that it uses graphs instead of linked blocks to store data, thereby speeding up transaction processing and avoiding transaction costs, for example in M2M applications. At the moment, Fujitsu is not focusing on any payment applications with IOTA. At Hannover Messe, the company presented a sample installation for the verification of production parts based on IOTA. 

IT services provider compacer, by contrast, has chosen Hyperledger Fabric for securing machine management. The company offers solutions to monitor machines (edbic and edpem) and provides solutions for retrofitting (such as gateways). Furthermore, compacer has developed a blockchain environment in which machines can automatically save condition data.

The consulting firm Faizod also uses the blockchain technology Hyperledger Fabric. Originally, the company had developed its own blockchain solution, Vooledger, however – after Hyperledger emerged and quickly evolved (not least due to the strong support of IBM), the company halted their development efforts around Vooledger. Faizod has already implemented projects based on Hyperledger Fabric, primarily for the logistics industry.

Another suitable use case for blockchain is license management for 3D print files, as this type of data usually has immense value (due to copyright) and uncontrolled copying would result in enormous financial losses. The SAMPL project offers a solution that is based on a private Ethereum blockchain and can be used to enable transparent license management for both licensors and licensees. The project is coordinated by PLM provider ProStep, which also provides its data exchange platform OpenDXM Global X for download of the 3D print files. Other SAMPL partners are e.g. NXP (Security) and 3D Microprint.

The fair has shown that Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric are currently the preferred blockchain platforms for use in the context of business processes. The projects we have seen are almost all aimed at improving the efficiency of business processes. New business models with the goal of creating entirely new ecosystems on the basis of blockchain technologies are at the current stage only being debated (at best).

It will be exciting to observe the further evolution of the IOTA technology, as it is relatively recent and forging new paths to avoid blockchain restrictions. Apart from Fujitsu, IOTA has important advocates such as Volkswagen or Bosch (which, however, also support other blockchain solutions). Whether IOTA can prevail given the strong competition remains to be seen, as, after all, Ethereum and Hyperlegder have a considerable innovative lead in terms of maturity. Moreover, we see the creation of further and completely new solutions that are no longer based on the classic blockchain principles and are being hotly debated, e.g. Hashgraph or Holochain.