The professional services firm Accenture is demoing a new blockchain prototype specifically tailored to aerospace and defense industry supply chains at this week’s Farnborough Air Show, the second largest such exhibition in the world.Working in conjunction with Thales, the French multinational aerospace and defense systems provider, Accenture’s prototype provides the ability to verify the authenticity of parts and supplies from beginning to end across the industry’s complex and heavily regulated supply chains.“Blockchain technology offers a new, elegant and secure way for the industry to track and trace myriad components while deterring counterfeiting and improving maintenance capabilities,” said John Schmitt, global managing director for Accenture’s Aerospace and Defense practice.In addition to the track-and-trace aspect, the prototype will be able to create and maintain the reliability of a so-called “digital twin” replica once the physical product has been delivered to the customer, offering a key value-add vis-a-vis other blockchain for supply chain systems that are currently in development.A digital twin is essentially a digital replica of an existing physical asset that, through the integration of Internet of Things technology, modifies itself as changes to the underlying physical asset are made. This process is enriched by the use of digital threads, which allow for information to flow through the value chain from original manufacturer to suppliers, partners and operators.Combined with blockchain, these innovations can facilitate enhanced data sharing throughout the product design, manufacturing and maintenance lifecycle - creating additional visibility into an aircraft engine, for instance, as repairs or part replacements are made. As such, Schmitt argued that blockchain's facilitation role in this context should not be underestimated:“Used in combination with technologies like digital twins and digital threads, blockchain could ultimately be a game-changing innovation for this sector.”Mark Walton-Hayfield, an executive with Accenture Digital in London, explained that in addition to reducing costs and verifying authenticity, these information flows will produce an even broader suite of benefits, such as the ability to conduct more targeted and precise recalls of potentially defective parts.
"When you consider how long it takes to build an aircraft and how long they’re in service for, we don’t want to over-recall things," he explained.
Built on Hyperledger Fabric, the prototype incorporates tamper-proof cryptoseals produced by Chronicled and Thales’ physically unclonable functions to ensure that data is unalterable throughout the product lifespan.“Using blockchain in combination with cryptoseals and physically unclonable functions allows you to build a trusted history behind parts,” explained Gareth Williams, vice president for secure communications and information systems at Thales UK, adding:“This demonstration builds on the strong relationship Accenture and Thales have created developing innovative digital solutions for a variety of industries.”Thales, which is based in Paris and publicly-traded on the Euronext Paris exchange, builds products such as flight control and electronic radio control systems for aircraft, tanks, submarines and railroads that operate in, among other places, complex high-security environments.The demo will add momentum to what is growing blockchain interest in the aerospace and defense industry. A recent report by Accenture found that 86 percent of sector companies are actively pursuing blockchain solutions and plan to integrate them into their existing systems within three years.Of particular concern for such companies are fears of corrupted or falsified data entering into their parts tracking systems, particularly as these supply chains are often heavily-regulated and can have strict limits governing how products and materials are sourced.“Maintaining integrity in the supply chain is critical. We see data floating around suggesting that potentially 15 percent of parts are counterfeited,” Schmitt said.