22 April 2021
by Andrea Gaini

First quantum key distribution trial for manufacturing passes test

The UK’s first industrial quantum-secure network has successfully shared live data for remote manufacturing using Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), over a 2-month trial period.

© Krzysztof Kowalik/Unsplash

Created by the Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) partnership, British Telecommunications (BT) and Toshiba Europe Ltd, this is the first time the capability has been demonstrated using off-the-shelf components and is the first phase of a programme exploring the practical application of this technology to accelerate the shift to smart factories.

The processing power of quantum computing, when it comes onstream, will challenge the security of today’s encryption technologies. This has serious implications for design and manufacturing industries which rely on ultra-secure data transmission. QKD has been identified as one of the solutions to secure communications, but its suitability for real-world manufacturing applications has been largely untested until now.

The DETI programme team, which takes novel digital technologies out of the lab and tests them on the factory floor, worked with BT and Toshiba to install a quantum-secure network, between the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS), near Bristol, using BT Openreach’s ‘standard’ fibre optic infrastructure.

The trial routed data across a dedicated connection, a 7km long QKD enabled encrypted tunnel, between the NCC and CFMS sites, to enable the remote operation of the NCC’s composites Overbraider machine – a device that weaves strands of carbon fibre from 288 separate spools to create precision hollow composites components, such as aircraft engine blades.

In the trial, the NCC and CFMS teams shared production data and quality-critical measurements using Toshiba’s QKD system to transmit encryption ‘keys’ – a stream of single encoded photons. This can distribute thousands of cryptographic keys per second, making it possible for both the data and the quantum keys to be transmitted using the same fibre, eliminating the need for costly dedicated infrastructure.

Over the course of the Overbraider trial, the QKD system generated on average, between 0.7 and 0.8Tbit of secure key each week, with the link operational for six months.

Authors

Andrea Gaini