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The impact of blockchain in printing

Quocirca’s latest report The Blockchain Opportunity, separates fact from fiction and analyses the true potential of blockchain for businesses in the print sector. Research Director Louella Fernandes explains why its broad relevance means every sector needs to pay attention to its disruptive and evolutionary potential

As the hype around blockchain begins to subside, cooler heads are starting to examine the prospects for this undoubtedly powerful concept for their specific industry and it’s now time for the print sector to invest in unpicking reality from hype to unlock the features of blockchain to help achieve specific business goals.

Making sense of the blockchain opportunity is important for the print industry. The challenge will be turning a disruptive technology into a strategic advantage. We’re already seeing some forays being made by sector leaders, but there will need to be greater understanding and commitment from both vendors and the channel before the full picture of its applications in print becomes clear.

Our latest report takes a balanced look at where blockchain can add value and solve industry issues and also examines barriers to adoption and challenges to be faced. This balanced approach is warranted. In the face of widespread disruption and rapidly evolving technology and market conditions, print companies are acutely aware that they need to pick the right technologies and strategies for investment in order to drive the innovation that is essential to their survival.

From hardware to as-a-service

Blockchain for business
Blockchain for business

From its origins in hardware, print has now largely matured as an ‘as-a-service’ provision. As providers bid to build out their MPS offerings around security, maintenance and workflow optimisation, blockchain represents an inflection point around which digital transformation projects can pivot.

In particular, growing awareness of the threat posed by IoT-enabled devices such as MFPs means controlling, patching and monitoring the print ecosystem will require an enhanced degree of security and integrity, which blockchain can offer.

The secure storage and authentication of business-critical documents is another key driver for investment in blockchain. Protecting intellectual property is increasingly important in an environment where corporate espionage and cyberthreats are escalating. Ensuring that documents are protected from unauthorised modification or exfiltration is a useful application for blockchain within corporate workflows.

Protecting innovation and IP

3D printing is arguably the most exciting and disruptive advance in print technology for a generation. Leading industry companies are investing heavily in additive manufacturing and, as they do so, coming up against challenges due to its complexity. The highly collaborative nature of additive manufacturing models requires multiple CAD designers and engineers working on single CAD data files at different points in time. This can result in issues with version control and file permissions. Distributed, time stamped CAD data files managed by blockchain would prevent tampering and provide chronologically secure accounts of all updates in real time, which will be increasingly useful as projects grow in international scope.

Blockchain also offers a pathway to resolving the challenges of digital rights management and licensing inherent in additive manufacturing processes. IP theft is a growing issue in a world where anyone with a 3D printer and access to CAD files can potentially create products and components. Safety concerns and commercial risks require a solution that creates a “chain of trust” between licensee and service provider and also delivers visibility over the production process, which blockchain could provide.

Blockchain blockers

There are undoubtedly challenges for print sector companies planning to incorporate blockchain into their company roadmap. Scalability and the costs of running enterprise blockchain networks are still in question, and the relative level of knowledge around the technology remains low. Similarly, its birth as the foundation technology for bitcoin has led to risk perceptions that are higher than might really be merited, leading to reticence from decision-makers.

While the initial hype is settling, blockchain remains a new technology, with the attendant risks and opportunities that accompany all disruptive forces. Our report contains expert analysis and strategic recommendations for companies in the print industry that are seeking guidance on how best to respond.

For more information and to purchase the report please visit: