Prototype_ Vantage Point

#AdvancedManufacturing | #MaterialsLibrary | #DigitalTwins | #SupplyChains | #Interoperability | #InformationIntegrity | #AgileFactories

Narrative  [7-8 min read]

Vantage Point was developed for the advanced manufacturing sector. The group behind it was constituted by Liz Corbin (Institute of Making, University College of London) and James Tooze (Royal College of Art) as lead designers, Burkhard Blechschmidt (Cognizant Technology Solutions), Pierre-Alexis Ciavaldini (Particl Foundation) and Wessel Reijers (Dublin City University) as expert stakeholders, and Romain Meunier (Institute of Making, University College of London) in support to the prototype production.

The main challenge chosen by this group was the opaqueness of manufacturing chains. Their underlying assumption was that much of the information within these chains is currently kept within silos, fragmented and disconnected across what are often multi-actor, multi-sited systems. This often comes as result of a lack of authentication and verification of information shared between different stakeholders, all managing their own information silos throughout the manufacturing process. And it implies not only a lack of transparency between agents, but also lack of trust that leads to ineffective decision-making by individual actors as decisions become based upon speculation rather than real-time, immutable data.

Visualisation panel with access points around the world.

Visualisation panel with access points around the world.

Vantage Point attempts to go against the obstacles that manufacturers often face to exchange production information with other manufacturers. They don’t have guarantees that information can be trusted or that intellectual property contained in information transfers is respected. The prototype also aims to be used by product designers who commonly have little clarity of exactly where, by whom, and at what costs products will be manufactured, considering they rarely have a clear line of communication with other actors across the supply chain. And last but not least, Vantage Point even looks for a place in the consumer space, where actors usually have no idea where their products really come from, or if they are made and distributed in responsible and sustainable ways, for example.

This prototype aims to address such problems by creating a digital twin from cradle to cradle for each and every consumer product, which is then stored on a distributed ledger such as a blockchain system, in order to ensure the authenticity, validity and interoperability of the information.

By using blockchains as focal management point of a highly intricate materials library, Vantage Point would allow products in a manufacturing process to be tracked and traced at every point throughout its various use stages and life-cycles, thus granting it a complete historical record. But most significantly, it would enable new ways to visualize and sort out complex information from multiple perspectives. It could grant each stakeholder access to a particular ‘vantage point’ adapted to their needs through the use of private key cryptography linked to distinct agent permissions.

App information as accessed by factory manager.

App as accessed by factory manager.

The Vantage Point is materialized through this prototype in an app, which has a companion system of simulated holographic projections to help users better visualize the information they require. This was designed to allow actors such as manufacturers to easily retrieve and visualize information about material properties, or certification bodies to get data about compliance with standards, or consumers to know about the companies and materials involved in the process. This is all captured in the “digital twin” residing on a blockchain and accessible through the app. To understand the prototype with a finer grain we may look at how the group pictured several actors interacting with Vantage Point, and what would they get out of it considering a particular product.

For instance, we may pick the example of a second hand scooter. We could envision how Carol, a manager of a small scale agile factory, would use the platform and what she could say about it. Orders in her automotive factory have been in steady decline over the last five years, which has resulted in a great deal of latent capacity on the production floor. Rather than reducing shifts or staff size, Carol starts using Vantage Point to make use of their latent capacity by producing component parts for a brand of motor scooters. Carol used to be very cautious about taking on additional production jobs. This frequently meant long-winded and unreliable streams of communication between various actors across the supply chain. And it often made such opportunities too complicated and risky to take on regardless of their obvious benefits to our bottom line.

Thanks to Vantage Point, Carol now has access to a reliable information source that efficiently connects her to the product’s wider multi-actor, multi-sited supply chain. Vantage Point acts as a one-stop-shop for vital information across the whole chain in real-time, from the technical specifications of components, to peer-reviewed reputations of other manufacturers in the chain, and from the material specifications of the components, to any delays occurring at other points of the production process. As this information is largely registered in real-time on an immutable ledger, Carol can be certain of its integrity, and Vantage Point’s transparency allows her to be flexible in production while working securely in multi-actor supply chains.

From another viewpoint, we could now see how David, a product liability insurance broker, could make use of the same system, and what would he obtain, considering the same scooter. Assessing the liability of products that result from multi-actor, multi-sited supply chains has always been difficult for David. The challenge is often in developing warranties that can embrace the flexibility and fast-paced nature of real-time distributed design, production and assembly. Blockchain technologies are an ideal solution to handling claims for retail products that are manufactured across a decentralised supply chain.

App information as accessed by insurance broker.

App as accessed by insurance broker.

Through Vantage Point David can ensure objective insurance policy criteria are encoded into the smart contracts that surround the production of a product. By using smart contracts in this way, David can automate peer-to-peer and sensor monitored assessments from trusted authoritative sources, in order to determine whether the claims conditions are being satisfied. Vantage Point creates an environment of trust between insurer, customer, manufacturer and regulator and ensures that claims are assessed in a timely, transparent, and evidence based manner. In this way, it enables David to collaborate across multi-actor, multi-sited supply chains while still creating legal accountability.

And last, but not least, we can look at how Frank, owner at the end of its relationship with the second hand scooter, would interact with Vantage Point. After ten years of use, Frank’s motor scooter is nearing the end of its life. He feels that it is often impossible to understand the disposal, re-sale, re-use and recycle options that are available to the owner of a product at the end of its life. Some options can be gathered from diverse references like user manuals, local recycling centres, and regional resale networks. Yet, almost always these references are difficult to cross-compare and noticeably incapable of speaking to the specificities of your particular product. He now sees that his scooter and its history have been tracked and traced throughout its life by Vantage Point.

By accessing the scooter’s history through Vantage Point, Frank is able to make a more informed decision about what re-sell and recycle options are available for him. He is then able to see more clearly what component parts of the scooter fit within the local recycling infrastructure, and estimate the scooter’s depreciated value should he decide to resell it online. And because Vantage Point provides detailed technical and material information about the scooter, Frank is also capable of exploring what new uses for the scooter’s component parts are possible. Thanks to Vantage Point he can make much clearer and responsible decisions for how best his scooter can be reused and recycled.

This is the value proposition of the Vantage point prototype as a blockchain based database. It could create a desired effect of information scarcity. It means that a digital twin of a product would always refer exactly to that particular product and guarantee information integrity. It also means that the information retrieved by a consumer about the origin of the materials would be the single one available to everyone and exactly the same as recorded at the moment when the materials were extracted. But it would also allow for different stakeholders to retrieve the information they need at all times about that exact product or part of the manufacturing process they’re looking for, and be certain that the integrity of the information is not compromised.

Vantage Point could reduce the barriers to data exchange with strong focus on data protection. It would make it easier not only to lower barriers of entry into manufacturing markets, thus fostering competition and innovation, but also to respect intellectual property by tracking and tracing IP rights. It would also function as a crucial enabler of the circular economy by supporting the ethical production, consumption and disposal of consumer products. It would offer not only value for each party engaged in manufacturing chains, but also for societal structures as a whole.

Vantage Point prototype with information app and visualisation panels.

Vantage Point prototype with information app and visualisation panels.

Additional Materials for Download

Vantage Point and its respective text, design, audiovisual, and code elements are made available by the EU Policy Lab of the Joint Research Centre under a EU Public Licence (EUPL), and where not applicable under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0), unless otherwise stated.

You can use, redistribute and/or modify the whole or parts of the available material under these terms “as-is”, as long as you note the licenses and attribute credit (European Commission, Joint Research Centre, lead designers, other contributors). This is without warranty and declared fitness for any particular purpose, and disclaiming liability for any consequences resulting from using, redistributing and/or modifying any of the provided elements in any given circumstances.

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