Blockchain For Engineers


Blockchain is the technology underlying cryptocurrencies. Businesses are looking into its use cases. And quite a number have emerged. The same have been applied in different sectors of the economy. Health, energy, supply chain are among the beneficiaries of blockchain. Engineering use case has been proposed as well. Implementation however is nonexistent in the early stage of the distributed ledger technology.

There is a lack of enthusiasm towards the blockchain call. But don’t mistake, the hype is there, the numbers of blockchain tutorials and descriptions are readily available as well but in the end, even a formal definition of the term blockchain itself is still missing.

The Standard Definition Of Blockchain

The computer scientists at NIST have written the closest thing to a definition.

They describe it as distributed ledgers that are cryptographically signed and clustered into blocks. Every block is connected to the previous after validation which makes it tamper evident.

The adding of new blocks makes the older ones difficult to modify. The newly made blocks are then replicated across all ledgers within the network. The established rules within the network resolve any impending conflicts automatically.

Permission-less And Permissioned Blockchain

The NIST blockchain technology overview also describes the permissioned and permission-less blockchain digital ledgers. In permission-less blockchain like cryptocurrencies, anyone with enough computing power and a software can become a node in the network. People adding blocks to the chain conceal their true identities using public addresses.

Permissioned blockchain on the other hand has those adding blocks known to the public. The networks have so far received less publicity, but that’s changing. In this type of network, only permissioned computers can become nodes. This type of blockchain can be really useful in the documentation of engineering activities and in the storage of engineering data during the production process. And that’s why NIST is recommending the use of the technology in data manufacturing.


Blockchain In The Supply Chain

Blockchain has found its way in the supply chain business. The technology has been found useful in providing proof of origins and authentication. In addition to its use in the supply chain, the technology is been proposed as a way for storage of data calibrations. Pioneers in the field have pointed out its ability in storing data especially the fact that it’s difficult to change once the block of data is added to the chain.

A permissioned blockchain is recommended where authorized parties add blocks of data to the chain. And because the calibration data is stored on computers in the private network, it cannot be lost even when data is breached, or the event of a calamity and fire at a single location. This is different from today’s where each lab has its own calibrations.

But storing data on the network is not enough. The data needs to have an additional software for organization and for calculation of measurements for certainty and verifying traceability to national labs like NIST. Michael Schwartz and his colleagues considered implementing blockchain in storing calibration data back in 2015. They however encountered problems in database design and specifically querying blockchain data. The additional software solves the problem and makes blockchain usable.

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