Engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) needed a way to secure smart manufacturing systems using the digital thread , so they turned to the new kid on the block ... blockchain, that is.

According to a new NIST report, the security system better known for underpinning Bitcoin and other digital currencies not only provides tamper-proof transmission of manufacturing data, it also yields something just as valuable to its users--traceability of that data to all participants in the production process.

"Because blockchain gives us both capabilities, we can build trustworthiness into digital manufacturing networks," said NIST mechanical engineer Thomas Hedberg, one of the authors of the report.

Each block consists of the data set, a time stamp, a cryptographic hash (an algorithm serving as a "cybersecurity fingerprint") and the hash of the previous block to mathematically link the two together.

The digital thread was created to replace two-dimensional design and fabrication information, what we know as blueprints, that has traditionally guided a product through its manufacturing lifecycle.

However, it requires humans to interpret, translate, re-enter and transmit data at each step.

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