Blockchain and 3D printing as technologies for a sustainable future

Matej Korytár founded companies TVAROCH and Rapidnext, which deals with serial 3D printing and design. Andrej Cabaj is a trained mechanic of numerically controlled machines; he has been working in blockchain technologies and design of the mechanical parts of the Bunkeroid for several years. We talked with them about blockchain, 3D printing, and their contribution to a sustainable future.

Ako ste sa dostali k týmto technológiám a prečo ste sa rozhodli do nich investovať? Aký v nich vidíte potenciál?

Matej: I started with it a long time ago, at the Slovak Technical University, the Faculty of Architecture, in 2009 – 2010. This was the time when I wanted to start using 3D printing to prototype my designs. I don’t know exactly from whom I learned about the technology, but I know that there were really very few companies in Slovakia that dealt with it. One printer was at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering – they had an FDM printer for ABS material. Also, the MAT company dealt with vinderchating technology, which made my design proposal. This technology, which is basically gluing dust together, is no longer widely used. That’s when I found out about it.

When one encounters 3D printing, one immediately finds that it is a great thing, opening up many possibilities for creative people. I saw the potential in that and, as soon as I finished school, I bought a 3D printer. At that time, there were really few companies that offered industrial printers, and 2–3 companies offered affordable printers at a price of around 5 thousand Euros, which are terrible compared to the present-day printers. It was necessary to set them up and learn to control them. Also, no information was available, so it worked on a ‘trial-and-error’ basis.

Andrej: We came across blockchain (BC) as an outright practical necessity. We bought a laser marker from China; we wanted to pay for it, but the payment took almost four weeks, as it was some inland company. At that time, the technology was not yet widespread, so we bought a novelty also under Chinese conditions. It was a misery to pay for it through Slovak banks. That was the first time we used Bitcoins to pay for this technology. We’ve found that, as far as the payment itself is concerned, it is extremely efficient and fast. We paid for it in twenty minutes, for the banks taking it almost three weeks. This way of doing business with China and similar remote markets is much more efficient than banks’ services. It was then that I became interested in this technology, and I began to delve deeper into it; it was my entry into blockchain technology.

When did you first encounter these technologies, and why did you decide to invest in them? What potential do you see in them?

Matej: Simply put, 3D printing is any technology that combines material, so-called additive production. It is any technology that layers material on itself in a certain way. In practice, this means that a 3D model created in a computer and software is divided into layers that are layered on top of each other and connected. The most common are plastics, metals, but silicones are also beginning to bond, and concrete used in architecture and construction, is being pressed. Everything where there is joining or layering on top of each other, I would call 3D printing.

Its use has already spread to all sectors. 3D printing has hit everywhere some physical objects are created – from heavy and light industry, electronics and construction, to research. It can be used almost anywhere, and it is up to companies or researchers to use it. The difference is the opposite of 3D printing of machining when the principle of removal occurs, and thus the object is created. This is the main difference compared to conventional technologies.

Andrej: Blockchain combines relatively old cryptography research – starting in the 1940s to the 1950s when cryptography gained speed and technological quality. It solves a fundamental problem, which is the inability to copy and duplicate data. In general, blockchain is used in the case of Bitcoin as a carrier of some value. This is due to cryptographic technology, which makes it impossible to copy it, and to creating a chain record, where these records refer to the previous records. As a result, they make it impossible to copy the transaction. This technology was invented by Nakamoto, who merged the old technologies into this one and solved a very significant problem of non-copyability or very difficult copyability of records. The initial application thereof was in the area of ​​financial value transfer. This is the primary technology, but we can deem money or currency and any information to be such a value. This means that we can enter the goods or logistics flows or medical records in that box. In this case, misinterpretation occurs very often. We do not need to enter the information itself in BC; it is enough to enter an indicator aiming at that information, which is very difficult to explain to a layperson. For example, some people think that we will put records in BC and will no longer have problems with medical records in general; however, this is not how it works. You can write an indicator in BC aiming where to find that record. We do not need to pour a lot of information into BC; on the contrary, BC significantly facilitates the paths found to that record. We use this technology with Bunkeroid. We don’t really need to keep a database of goods or customers. Nevertheless, we can always connect a specific product with a specific customer who bought it without entering any BC data. So the progress is still here. This technology will be exciting in the future. For example, various systems are now being developed connected with Corona but still break down, and BC can effectively replace it. The BC system is so robust and massive that it is irrevocable today and will not suffer from the problems we can currently see in the public administration. This technology has great potential in the application; for example, we research and test it at Bunkeroid. Without a database of clients, we can identify clients. Without a product database, we can identify a product. This evokes that the complete service process is set up always to solve ad-hoc and only based on data drawn from BC. Therefore, we do not need any additive infrastructure, which we know as an information system deployed in a company.

Source: Bunkeroid

Could you tell us what Bunkeroid is?

Andrej: Before you can find an application for Bunkeroid, you need to know the basics of blockchain technology. It is necessary to know some basic operations of the transaction mechanisms that take place in BC. You’ll then find that if you want to manage that data somehow, you basically don’t need any computer or server. You need to have a set of some information. This information is called the hierarchically deterministic operations, which always start from one large, randomly generated number. This number is transformed into a so-called “Seed” to become easier to understand when such a long number is read and to avoid mistakes. From this root record, you can calculate any operations that are related to your activities. This means that if you remember the “seed,” you will get to all the operations you do on BC. You have to take extra care of this “seed,” and you can derive it into other “sub-seeds” via plausible deniability passwords. All this is best done outside of computers because it is a perfect tool and a bad enemy. It would help if you somehow processed, store, and archive all of this data, but you must not do so on a computer. This problem is addressed by Bunkeroid, which manages “classified information” completely off the computer.

Basically, you have a piece of iron that will lead you to the necessary information. Whether you sell goods, run an organization, get data to vaccinate the population, or manage parliamentary decision-making, all this Bunkeroid allows in a suitable application or method of deployment. This is a fairly extensive issue because there are many areas, and I am not an expert on all of them. So I’m basically just devoting myself to that industrial production, but the application is really very wide.

So does Bunkeroid protect a user without using an additive infrastructure and storing data on a computer before hackers can access and possibly exploit it?

Andrej: This is its primary feature, but the most important thing is that you can control all deterministic hierarchical operations with it. This is its essential feature.

Ján Uriga claims that this pandemic period is very dynamic, thereby deciding to adopt the technology all the more dynamic. Therefore, according to him, we are experiencing a boom in the adoption of new technology. Does this also apply to blockchain and 3D printing?

Matej: In the crisis moments, such as a pandemic, it is always clear what is really valuable and worth surviving. It’s a natural choice – if those things have value, they jump out most in times of crisis. 3D printing itself is an exponential technology and is growing rapidly. At this time, it has caught on faster in some sectors, while in some, it has not manifested itself at all. For example, one of the benefits of printing is that it can respond very quickly to the production market’s needs; it is very flexible and offers great variability. Often, this is not the most efficient or cheapest way to produce things. Especially when it comes to mass production; however, it is still the fastest and most flexible way of producing objects. An example is protective shields, which were not produced at once, and many people, including us, began to produce headbands complemented by plexiglass. The product was essentially ready from one day to another and could be distributed. In my opinion, this is one such real example of the dynamic adoption of technology.

So is the advantage in the speed and availability of that technology?

Matej: Basically, yes. It can quickly adapt to what is currently needed. There is no need to plan much. If raw material, such as plastic, is available, whether, in the form of dust or string, plastic products can be produced almost immediately. Of course, this is not always economical, but the technology is still getting cheaper, faster, and better in terms of accuracy. It is only a matter of time before 3D printing will produce larger volumes of 10,000 or more pieces. For example, production may already be efficient with 1,000 pieces, but it depends on the type. It is not a universal technology for everything. In companies, we often find that people want to produce a product with 3D printing, but laser cutting can be more suitable. So, although it is not suitable for 3D printing, for many things, it is efficient, especially in the production of one or a few pieces. It can be really adapted very quickly. If people find out how to use the product, it can be improved quickly, and a new, improved version can be released. It is an advantage that also helps with adoption.

Andrej, what do you say about the adoption of blockchain technology in connection with the pandemic era?

Andrej: I see it practically. Before the pandemic, we were selling units of Bunkeroids because a person, who has Bunkeroid, must also have some basic technology, efficient. Such a person then finds that he has more Bitcoins or other krypton valets and needs more information and organizations through the Bunkeroid. The start of the pandemic increased the sales to dozens of pieces; the increase is evident. As far as the level of education is concerned, we have now launched the demystifier courses. We see that people are interested in understanding the technology, as they keep enrolling even during a pandemic. If the technology is well explained to the people, they will absorb it quickly and start using it. In my view, the pandemic has helped to spread these technologies. People sit at home, think more, and learn new things. The faster they learn new things, the brighter the future awaits us.

Source: Tom Claes

Is technology being adopted at the company level, too? If sales of Bunkeroids are on the rise, isn’t it mainly consumers who have decided to invest in Bitcoin or other alternative currencies?

Andrej: Those, who wanted to invest, do invest mainly through stock exchanges. A group we are talking about includes those who really want to use technology. The group that wants to use Bitcoin is now growing enormously. People have found that Bitcoin does not have to be used as a speculative asset, and there are an awful lot of uses available. For example, inventory is one of the most important applications that can be written, which greatly reduces business costs. Instead of buying expensive software, such as SAP or Pohoda, for hundreds to thousands of Euros, you buy one Bunkeroid and, with it, you track not only production management but also goods around the world. It has a clear economic impact. When you master the technology, you save your own resources. When you do not control it, you depend on the old centralized methods of records and registers you have to pay for. In times of crisis, this is a significant advantage. Those, who reduce costs, will survive, and those, who don’t, well, unfortunately, sooner or later have to leave the market. So, if you master Bitcoin, it can be a perfect helper.

Many people live by operating on the stock exchanges, which has far-reaching implications for AML/KYC. Basically, the State started watching you. You are almost a criminal just because you operate on the AML/KYC stock exchange. This technological aspect is neglected even though our government officials consider Bitcoin to be money. It’s not money; it’s technology. The one, who masters the technology, will always have a technological advantage. Whether or not an official likes it, I say that you still need to educate, learn, and find an application for your specific use. Bitcoin is so variable that it allows almost any entrepreneur to use some of it to their advantage. If, however, they can master it, as it requires poor education.

If an entrepreneur decides to invest in Bitcoin, how big an investment and educational injection can it expect?

Andrej: If one wants to apply this knowledge, the primary investment consists in education. Without it, the layman will make many mistakes because the Internet is full of information that directs the user the wrong way. A layman would have a tough time distinguishing between “fake” and true information. I would recommend BC courses. There are quite a few in Bratislava; we organize the demystifier course in Považská Bystrica; there are groups of people in Košice, who know how to provide good technological advice, and a new group has recently been established in Levice. In the Czech Republic, the infrastructure is a little more developed.

As for the physical products themselves, a simple vault costs around 50 – 60 Eur. If you want to do more sophisticated things, then Bunkeroid costs 100 – 130 Eur. Financial investment is really minimal. Massive investments have to be made in education, but we are more talking about time investments. It takes about a month for an average person to understand BC after good training. If it is an entrepreneur, who intends to use it somehow, it will take about six months to find a way to do so, and the implementation itself takes another six months. So, if an entrepreneur has made up a way to use BC, it can deploy it within a year. Simpler cases are immediately deployable. Education must precede them so that the user knows what he is doing, how he is doing it, and why he is doing it. The whole point is in education.

Source: ZMorph All-in-One 3D Printers

In which sectors is the application of these technologies most viable?

Matej: I think that education is necessary everywhere. These days, it is simply not enough what a person learned at university or school. Everyone has to learn all their lives. It is necessary. Technology is now flowing at such a speed that one must be educated to survive. Companies know they need to educate their employees. Managers themselves must obtain new information to survive. Education is the basis of everything. The point is to make it as efficient as possible. 3D printing is not the technology itself as in BC – some investment is needed to buy machines. Of course, you can start with machines that cost 100 EUR, but the most expensive industrial machines can cost several million Eur. The investment is very variable, and I rather think that the business itself is not so much about investing in technology but about the idea and its implementation.

BC, 3D printing, and IoT are the most potent technologies in transition to the circular economy. Why?

Matej: Compared to machining, 3D printing is an environmentally friendly technology because only the material actually needed to create the object is consumed. The raw material is joined only within bounds of the object’s volume, and the rest can be reused. Another advantage is that plastics can usually be recycled to be crushed again and used on 3D printing material. Of course, this is not possible indefinitely because plastics become contaminated somehow, and when they melt, their properties degrade. The material can experience five cycles until it becomes unusable. Nevertheless, it can still be used in others, perhaps for not such precise objects or products – it can still be used as a material. Such an example is, in addition to plastics, also metal scrap, which is crushed into dust and can be used for 3D printing of metal parts. An interesting startup, which was established last year in California, USA, deals with it. I was quite surprised that they know how to sort metal, clean it, process it in some way, and crush it into dust that can be used in 3D printing. This is one advantage, and the other is that produced is only as much as necessary. 

Andrej: This question is taken up quite often, with BC being criticized for excessive electricity consumption. This is very debatable because it cannot be taken out of context like the whole environmental issue. The truth is that Bitcoin, or the technology of its extraction, consumes energy that no one else can consume. Almost 70% of mining performance is in China. They are deployed in a remote area near the huge hydroelectric power plants built by the Chinese Communist Party. However, the Party forgot that the energy losses on energy imports into civilization are huge. Miners can consume it on the spot at the hydroelectric power plant, thus returning to the government the investments they would lose. It is tough to say that it is waste energy that goes basically just into the air in the form of heat, but there are indeed more of those perspectives.

Bitcoin, as an independent technology, must be environmentally friendly. This means that any energy consumption and waste must be returned to the miner. If not, they immediately go bankrupt, go into liquidation, and the mining farms are dissolved. The problem is that the State, or some organizations, creates a protective hand over some business segments, and they then behave inefficiently. Bitcoin does not have this problem; it is extremely effective. Anyone, who fails to extract Bitcoin at a reasonable cost that allows it to make economic sense, will be liquidated. It is unsustainable for a long time, and no one can hold a protective hand over it, not to say the government. The environment’s burden also acts as a selective hand of the market right over those Bitcoin miners, who try to mine, and liquidates them.

Is BC an appropriate technology to bring transparency into the supply chains and ensure that materials do not come from primary extraction but the recycled raw materials and that no exploitation occurs in third countries?

Andrej: In this case, I have no doubts at all. Any client-server computing technology can be falsified. Whatever you add to that database will be considered ordinary information by the database, whether true or false. You have to evaluate it as a human being. In BC, the information is immutable, which means that anyone can verify it repeatedly. Client-server solutions do not allow this, so yes. If you can efficiently transfer the complete production chain to BC somehow, it can definitely eliminate the problem for you. The question is how to define the string you want to track. Tracking these processes themselves, including environmental ones, can be ensured and controlled by BC without any problems. This technology is completely free and is basically available already today. You need to define what you are going to track. 

Do you see the potential of 3D printing in the application of some biomaterials or 3D glass printing?

Matej: Of course, this is a segment that is developing rapidly. Companies that produce material for 3D printing, but also all these plastics companies, try to come up with some plastic that is biodegradable and, at the same time, retains some mechanical properties. It must not fall apart; if you pour water over it, it must withstand something. On the other hand, it is expected that if plastic enters nature, where it is affected by weather conditions, it will break down completely on some carbon and will not stay in nature for another 1,000 years. Plastics are probably the biggest problem. For example, I was interested in using oil used in the preparation of food in McDonald’s. They try to convert this used oil into a photopolymer resin, i.e., a 3D printed material. It is one of the technologies that use light, which cures the resin and thus creates objects. I was intrigued by the fact that it is a terrible amount of waste that can certainly be processed somehow. If it could be used for 3D printing, I would be fascinated that they could turn such oil into a building material. As I mentioned, metal recycling is also interesting. 

Do you see an opportunity in connecting BC with 3D printing or other technologiesOr the potential to enhance their effect and positive impact?

Matej: Everything can be interconnected in some way. As with people, interconnecting them increases the value of their work. It’s the same with technology interconnection – it can increase their efficiency or potential. With 3D printing and BC technology, this could be used in the supply chain. I would be most interested in seeing the product chain from raw material to the customer.

Andrej: There is no single technology that would have significance in itself. Any invented hammer is useless unless you find a nail to be driven with it. Likewise, BC does not make sense on its own because it is basically just a number that exists on a certain number axis. The number can imply any information. BC doesn’t make sense unless you can link it to some functionality, feature, or item. Today, unfortunately, 99% of operations are made on the financial market, so the number itself on the numeric line has been linked to some financial features. It is a complete degradation of the potential application of BC.

In 3D printing, tracking the supply chain to see if the material is degradable would induce the supplier’s hierarchical breakdown of information. As users of the material, we should be able to verify this. Similarly, we can make the products made on a 3D printer also on CMC machines. Customers should be able to verify that it was us who made it. To do this, we have developed the “NoDataStored” technology, which we have applied to the Bunkeroid. We monitor the material flow – of material suppliers on the input side and customers on the output side. We control the quality of materials; we know what we sell, and we can always prove it to the customer with a material certificate. In principle, we have connected all this logistics chain in Blockchain.

Source: ZMorph All-in-One 3D Printers

Can these technologies be combined with creativity?

Matej: In my opinion, creative people are naturally interested in new possibilities, technologies, and everything new. They are looking for new solutions. Creativity and education are part of progress. As people learn, progress and technology must use creativity, find new solutions, and look at things differently. It is not just the artists and the designer who has to be creative, but anyone can be creative – even an official, if he/she finds a new solution that will help make the system more efficient. So creativity is not just the domain of artists, as most people think. Both small and large companies require creative people, and it is simply a matter of supporting and trusting such people. It’s about not pushing creative people to the background but giving them space for new possibilities and creative solutions. I don’t think the potential of 3D printing is fully exploited, and creative people can discover it – they can find interconnections with other technologies. Finding connections between various other technologies and bringing a new solution is also creativity.

Andrej: As Matej said, it is an interdisciplinary matter. Creativity is challenging to demonstrate if you do not have an education. The uneducated mass of people has terribly little opportunity to develop something creative, as they have nothing to draw from. To be creative, you must have a comprehensive basic education. You don’t have to go to any extreme depth with that education, but you have to have at least some basic awareness because if you come across a creative idea in the process, you will be able to study that particular area. A creative person takes areas of different types of education, combines the information, and creates a useful product for a wide range of people. This is the creativity that drives humanity forward. Education and creativity are bowls of one scale and must be in balance. If you have a certain level of education and the appropriate creativity, you can combine them. Imagination and creativity are, therefore, literally essential these days. Nothing can be done without it.

The series of Creativity4Circularity podcasts was created for the CoCo4CCI project, which connects advanced manufacturing with the cultural and creative industries to facilitate less traditional forms of collaboration. The Slovak Business Agency prepared them. If you want to listen to this interview as a podcast, you can find it on the following platform:

The project is funded by the Interreg CENTRAL EUROPE grant scheme.