The distributed-nature technology of Blockchain has disrupted many industries, with its uses and applications leading to new innovations everywhere. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are just the initial use cases of the blockchain. The truth is that blockchain technology can be applied to far more sectors than was initially imagined. More security, decentralized nature, easy verification, and protected identities are just some of the many features that make the blockchain truly transformational. One area where this technology can be efficiently exploited is the supply chain sector.
Blockchain essentially is a distributed ledger that is updated in real time with each network participant making a transaction. This specific feature can be put to good use when it comes to the supply chain management. Logistics demand transparency and traceability. It is clear that customers want their meat or grains to be exactly as has been promised on the packaging. Incorporating blockchain into supply chain management can certainly be a step towards ensuring that. With the potential to almost eliminate fatal errors, and minimizing courier costs, blockchain can be viewed as the next big step in supply chain management. Some companies have gone ahead and taken this step, with Walmart partnering with IBM for a project in order to trace their products much faster than traditional methods.
Here are a few use cases of blockchain which are certain to revolutionize the supply chain sector in the near future:
Seafood tracing and verification
News about mislabelled and ‘not-fit-for-consumption’ seafood have been floating around since 2016. The seafood industry faces a lot of problems due to difficulty in tracking produce from ocean to plate. In the event of a disease breakout due to seafood consumption, with the current supply chain logistics, it becomes tough to track and single out the source of the malicious activities. With blockchain, however, it can become a completely different story.
With projects such as the Pacific Tuna project, which aims at putting a label on every tuna that makes it from the ocean to the market, blockchain applications in seafood tracing and verification is something we all can get behind. Seafood is physically tagged and the data is then stored on the blockchain to enable easy access at any time and place. The food supply chain, in general, can benefit from blockchain uses, and seafood is a particular use case that is particularly problematic and could use the extra help.
The problem with drugs and pharmaceutical safety is two-pronged- Tracing and verification, Second being Frauds
According to reports, the global fraudulent drug industry is worth about USD 75-200 billion. The traditional supply chain just cannot be relied upon to bring down those numbers. The opacity of the chain is what causes the problem, and with blockchain applications thrown into the mix, the problem can certainly be reduced. Tracing drugs from manufacturer to buyer, it can be identified exactly where the problem in the supply chain lies. In turn, this can help counter frauds, and prevent deaths due to counterfeit drug consumptions.
Blockchain applications can also be used to ensure drug safety which may be threatened by environmental conditions. As medicines need to be at a certain cool temperature, it can be disastrous for shipments if, perhaps, the AC unit fails, and the driver is oblivious to the problem. With all medicine units on the blockchain, alerts could be issued whenever the temperature falls below a certain level, or for other environmental conditions so that human intervention could fix the problem.
Automotive supply chain
It is predicted that blockchain applications are set to take over the entire automotive marketplace. Ownership, payments, financing, production, and tracking – all are set to be blockchain-ed in the near future. Looking at the supply chain part of things, one of the biggest problems with the automotive supply chain is the counterfeit parts industry. As is the case with counterfeit drugs, fake automotive spare parts can also be tracked using similar logic and features of the blockchain. At every step of the way, companies can track the parts that they are producing and selling on so that customers get what they want.
Blockchain application helps in increasing the efficiency of the recall process as well. Since data about every car/vehicle produced is on the blockchain, it could be quickly identified when a shipped vehicle encounters a fault. This can be coded into a smart contract- with faulty parts triggering some clauses in the contracts, notifying the supplier to recall one or all units produced.
Another example where blockchain has helped overhaul the automobile industry is the cloud-based AutoDX, short for Auto Exchange Data. It is designed with the assistance from IBM and can handle invoices, purchases, and even transport requests. At present, more than 60 firms employ this system and plans are afoot to overhaul the general system onto a one that works on an intelligent blockchain network.
The reason for this is extremely clear – when automobile makers and component manufacturers are brought onto the blockchain, it brings a clear end-to-end supply chain visibility for everyone involved, which, in turn, improves the overall efficiency of the supply chain. Using the AutoDX platform, a purchase order from an automobile manufacturer is docked into its component marker’s system. The moment this is accepted, a sales order is automatically created without human intervention.
AutoDX has successfully been able to shave off a large chunk (approximately 80%) of the vendor management, invoices, and supply chain management costs which accounted for 1%-5% of total costs.
Maersk and IBM: collaborative efforts
Two giants, Maersk and IBM, announced their joint efforts to use blockchain applications to revolutionize supply chain management in January 2018. The companies have been working together for several years, and this was how they made it formal and official. Other partners of the project include DuPont, General Motors, and Tetra Pak. Federal organizations have also shown support, including bodies such as the US Customs and Border Protection, and the Customs Administration of the Netherlands.
The Maersk-IBM joint venture aims at commercializing-
- Paperless trade. The amount of paperwork involved in the supply chain is too much and unnecessary. The joint venture aims to eliminate the need of paper for contracts, agreements, and other documents, by digitization of all contracts, into smart contracts, perhaps.
- Shipping information pipeline. This enables everyone involved in supply chain management to seamlessly exchange information, as the chain is visible openly to anyone on the network. Transparency is what the supply chain needs, and that is what it’ll be getting.
The project is aimed at providing value to every stakeholder in the supply chain, be it suppliers, retailers, producers or transporters. The project is still awaiting regulatory approval but is certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to blockchain applications in supply chain management.
It is clear that blockchain applications in the supply chain can result in benefits, and even though it is still in its initial stages, the potential for supply chain revolution is huge.
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