Blockchain technology can conceivably be integrated into almost every industry imaginable. Whether or not that’s how it plays out is a different story, but 3D printing seems to be another viable candidate that can benefit from having a distributed ledger. Security is a big concern with 3D printing for a few reasons. One of them is to prevent counterfeiting of intellectual property (IP). We will most likely see history repeat itself as we saw with pirated music and movies. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) audio and video file “sharing” forced both the music and movie industries to rapidly evolve. Combining P2P technology with additive manufacturing (AM) will change how the entire supply chain works for most businesses.
Another concern is that the files can be tampered with as they’re passed along from person to person. Either knowingly or not, modifications to the file could make the 3D-printed object prone to failure. These ‘modifications’ that result in an inferior product would most likely come from the owner of the intellectual property (or an entity associated with them) . A lot of torrents on the web are actually honeypots uploaded by law enforcement or by associates of the music/movie industries. Once the file is downloaded, it can install malware on your system or the uploader could simply notify your ISP and have them threaten to bring legal action against you.
On the other side of the coin, we will most likely see improvements made to IP too. We are fast approaching a time where you can scan an object with your phone, modify the object and then print it out in your garage. It seems blockchain technology is a good way to regulate and monitor what 3D printers are doing, similar to what distributed ledgers will do with our financial data. We can imagine these 3D printers being joined to a massive decentralized network and working together to print just about anything. The question is, who or what will control what we are allowed to print?
Blockchain technology can be an extremely effective tool in preventing 3D printing piracy. However, if our IP laws are antiquated then we might be boxing ourselves in with blockchain-enabled 3D printers. Napster helped restore the balance when record companies were overcharging for their music and taking more than their fair share. There’s a lot more at stake with 3D printing since it can give people the tools they need to build better tools. If someone can’t afford to print a copy of a tool in a 3rd world country (because the file is too expensive) yet she has the materials and the 3D printer, why should we not give this person the tool if it’s going to improve her life and the lives of those around her?