Product Supply Chain Management

Blockchain technology can help ensure provenance, providing traceability across the supply chain. This can thwart counterfeiters and ensure safety. The technology also allows manufacturers, shippers and customers to aggregate data, analyze trends, and perform predictive monitoring.

Here are just a handful of use cases for blockchain technology, looked at through the lens of different industries.

Coffee

The coffee supply chain is ripe for reform. Production is fragmented — coffee is mostly grown in remote and developing areas, prices are volatile, and climate change threatens many coffee-growing regions. And human rights organizations have long documented abuses of laborers. Blockchain can’t solve all those issues, but it can begin to bring transparency and efficiency to the coffee supply chain.

 

A British company Provenance says it is lighting a fire under the retail world. The company has developed an app that allows retailers and customers to see where a product comes from – from origin to point of sale. “Behind every product is a complex chain of people and places, and that’s a really important part of why people buy things,” founder Jessi Baker explains. “Provenance is all about making that information transparent to shoppers, but also to businesses, all along the supply chain.”

Seafood Verification

You’ve heard the stories about mislabeled seafood. Despite all the coverage back in 2016, it’s still going on. Blockchain technology can track fish and other seafood from habitat to market, and there are several such efforts underway. We’ll look at two — one that’s already in place and one that isn’t.

 

Hyperledger Sawtooth, originally developed by Intel, is a modular blockchain platform. Perhaps its most notable feature is its consensus algorithm — the proof of elapsed time (PoET) algorithm — that lets users reach consensus, even in an environment where counterparties don’t know each other. (Other permissioned blockchains require that users know and trust each other.) Sawtooth 1.0 was released in January, but back in April 2017, it offered a demonstration to show how a seafood supply chain project can be built in Sawtooth. Seafood is caught and physically tagged with sensors that continuously transmit time and location data to the blockchain giving the buyer access to a comprehensive record of the fish’s provenance.

Food Safety

Many food safety issues, such as cross-contamination and the spread of foodborne illness, as well as unnecessary waste and the economic burden of recalls, are made worse by lack of data and traceability. It can take weeks—sometimes months—to identify source of contamination—or the point at which a product became contaminated. This means sicker people, lost revenue, and wasted food.

 

Blockchain technology enables companies to trace contaminated product to its source quickly and ensure safe removal from store shelves and restaurants, according to IBM.Frank Yiannas, Walmart’s Vice President of Food Safety, explains how Walmart can track food products through its supply chain using IBM Food Trust built on the IBM Blockchain Platform.

Pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceuticals, too, often need to be kept in a particular temperature zone. Many medications—especially biologics—being shipped from manufacturer to warehouse to another warehouse need to stay within a certain temperature range. With blockchain technology, this can be programmed in, triggering an alert when the temperature gets too high — or falls too low. “If the trigger is set within a delivery truck, you could set the air conditioning unit in the back to immediately turn on, or you could at least alert the driver to stop and fix the situation.”

Blockchain does more than monitor and verify, she explains. It can help “steward” medications from source to destination. And because all the processes and checkpoints are logged on the blockchain, the manufacturer or the shipper identifies and remedies trouble spots.

Diamond Trade

Blockchain is helping verify the authenticity, provenance, and custody of diamonds across the supply chain. Everledger, using Hyperledger platform, developed a blockchain solution for the diamond supply chain that’s designed to help prevent fraud and illicit global diamond trading. Each stone has what amounts to a fingerprint. It’s “a forensic view like dental marks or iris scan,” says Leanne Kemp, CEO and founder of Everledger. Around 1.6 million diamonds reside on that blockchain.