By James Allen Regenor
Blockchain Resources Group, LLC

Artificial intelligence, 3D printing, IOT and blockchain are just some of many emerging technologies that are disrupting financial and logistics systems around the world. Spurred on by an ever-expanding global market, enterprises everywhere are exploring new opportunities through these technologies to improve their internal systems and generate billions of dollars in value for customers and shareholders.

The world is experiencing a renaissance period of technological innovation, while still only scratching the surface of its potential.

This is because while AI, 3D printing, IOT and blockchain disrupt their way through traditional systems, these technologies are only just beginning to understand each other and converge to spur new hybrid solutions. Industries like aerospace, pharmaceuticals and energy are amongst the first to receive the benefits of this technological convergence, with hybrid solutions that are reinventing the way items are designed, produced, tracked and distributed.

Through the vantage point of a consumer and investor, we explore the technology transformations occurring in these respective industries.

Traditionally, pharmaceutical supply chains have operated in one linear direction from the drug producer to the consumer, with the aim of producing then delivering medications to patients as quickly as possible. However, our economy has becomes more globalized and a patient’s feedback is more tightly integrated in the testing and manufacturing process of mediations.

Medical products are also experiencing shorter life cycles and often require different supply chains for different products. Through a more open and fully integrated supply chain system, drugs can be produced efficiently and distributed securely. Patients can also be properly oriented into the supply chain process in order to provide productive feedback loops.

Companies are now leveraging the convergence of artificial intelligence, 3D printing and blockchain technology to handle the design, production and distribution process of pharmaceutical products in a more open and integrated supply chain.

Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI) technology will fundamentally alter the way drugs are designed. Traditionally, the ‘trial and error’ process of designing a single new drug can take 12 years and cost $2.9 billion. Thanks to the help of ANI, algorithms can absorb highly complex data sets and apply biomechanical principles in order to accurately predict the success of a drug prior to its development, saving huge amounts of time and money from clinical trials.

Companies like Microsoft, IBM (in partnership with Atomwise) and Google have been focusing on disrupting healthcare through the use of ANI technology. Once a personalized and predictably effective drug is designed through ANI, it has to be quickly and cost effectively produced in order to meet deadlines. This is where 3D printing comes in.

3D printing technology represents the next stage of automated manufacturing. Traditionally, drug manufacturing has been a fragmented process that usually results in overproduction or lack of accurate dosing. Now with the help of 3D printers, pharmaceutical companies can develop personalized drugs with increasing precision and efficiency, saving both time and money. 3D printers designed at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute are capable of assorting 14 different classes of molecules using chemical building blocks.

In another case, Spirtam, an FDA approved pill, was produced layer by layer using 3D printers in order to be absorbed faster by patients. Additionally, medical supply companies are now printing bespoke implants in the operating room for their patients. Gone are the days of small, medium and large…now a patient specific match is made as a result of transformative technology convergences. Innovations in the drug design and production process can help companies save thousands of hours and millions of dollars. However, blockchain technology is the final component that is needed to provide counterfeit detection and secure distribution.

Blockchains provide access to an open distributed ledger for manufacturers, transporters, hospital, pharmacies and patients to keep track of a drug’s location at all times. Blockchains are also immutable, preventing malicious actors from tampering with the records in order to cover up incidents of theft.

Furthermore, Blockchains provide the much-needed transparency that enables patients and hospitals to immediately identify counterfeit drugs by their blockchain records (or lack of records). The World Health Organization estimates that $75bn was generated in global fake drug sales in 2010, a 90% increase over five years. In many developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America, counterfeit drugs account for 10- 30% of all medicines in the market. The black market for counterfeit medicines poses a huge threat to unknowing patients, which is why a decentralized database is necessary to validate the drugs that are safe to be consumed.

Moog, precision actuation company with a robust additive manufacturing capability, is at the forefront of technology convergence in the aerospace manufacturing vertical. Additive Manufacturing (AM) involves using CAD (computer aided design) and 3D printing technologies to produce aircraft parts by depositing new material, layer upon layer, in precise geometric shapes.

This method significantly reduces the overhead costs and increases the efficiency of traditional manufacturing processes. The convergence of 3D printing and blockchain enables the conversion of bits to atoms at the point of use and time of need. Thus creating a smart distributed digital supply chain. This convergence drives the nonvalue added process out of supply changes: packaging, shipping, warehousing, inventory management, and customs brokerage fees to name a few.

Despite these improvements, AM manufacturing faces challenges like:

● Technology: Different design principles and stress data for each different AM technology
● Data management: Future geographical and/or organizational separation of the design and production organizations requires a secure transfer of approved design data (i.e. build file, material specifications)
● Business: Intellectual property protection for design & printing data

To address these challenges Moog has developed ‘VeriPart’, a technology solution that converges blockchain technology with the 3D printing and AM manufacturing. This hybrid solution is a blockchain enabled supply chain that stores the history of the design-manufacture-use cycle, secures the transportation of data, facilitates digital rights management/licensable transactions and provides a proof of authenticity for printed goods and assemblies.

Like the pharmaceutical industry, technology convergence is being used to enhance the design, production and distribution processes, eliminating efficiencies and cutting costs on multiple levels.

Clean Energy
Arguably the most ambitious example of technological convergence between blockchain, AI and IOT is in the clean energy industry. The clean energy industry faces the challenge of figuring out how to incentivize institutions and individuals to engage in eco-friendly practices that produce/consume renewable energy in order to fight off greenhouse gasses and C02 emissions. Current solutions to climate change are inefficient and incentive models are difficult to track and reward effectively.

Fortunately, a company called LO3 Energy is developing a blockchain-based platform that enables peer-to-peer ‘Exergy’ marketplaces to form for the generation and distribution of renewable energy. The company is combining blockchain technology with IOT to enable energy usage to be effectively tracked on smart devices and then recorded on their decentralized public ledger.

Users participate in the ecosystem by registering IOT devices (like smart meters) that capture data on the renewable and sustainable energy being produced. Devices can be hooked up to distributed solar rooftop systems, wind farms, microgrids,etc.

The smart devices are IOT technologies that help provide an accurate reading on the amount of energy being produced. This data is stored on the blockchain so that it can be verifiable by all parties. As data from the IOT devices pour in, the energy producers are automatically and fairly rewarded with XRGtokens, which are transferred through smart contracts.

Technology convergences are an essential part of how blockchain technology, A.I, 3D printing and IOT will reach their full transformative potential. Today, the common thread between each of these technologies is their potential for disruption across multiple industries. Yet another common thread that is less often discussed is their scalability challenges, which differ in severity, but are nonetheless a factor to mass scale adoption.

For example:
● In order to maintain trust in the monetary value of a tokenized real world asset like real estate or artwork, blockchains may need IOT devices that can provide automatic updates of any changes made to the physical asset
● AI algorithms must be applied to processes like 3D printed manufacturing or supply chain IOT sensors to convert the meta data into knowledge and wisdom. IOT devices need to be converged with A.I systems in order progress from simply recording information to providing useful recommendations

In order to overcome scalability challenges, IOT, 3D printing, AI and blockchain must accentuate each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses. Only then, through the adoption of hybrid applications that enhance design, production and distribution processes will we witness exponential growth in industries like aerospace, pharmaceuticals, clean energy and many more.

In addition to his work with the Blockchain Resources Group, Regenor serves as an Advisor, Logistics, Defense, and Aerospace, for the Blockchain Research Institute. He is also the Chief Solutions Officer, (Operating Partner) for the Fr8 Network.

His specialties include transformative technologies for Industry 4.0, blockchain-enabled business models, smart contracts, IoT, autonomous ops, platform based business models, social intelligence and leading transformative teams.