In recent times, blockchain technology has gained more public attention due to the popularity of Bitcoin and the prospect of amassing wealth from investments in digital currency, also known as “cryptocurrency”. The technology behind Bitcoin is fascinating and ground breaking, challenging the current norms of centralizing data storage and managing security. Blockchain comprises of blocks of information that is stored and accessed using complex algorithms (Hirsh. (2019). Blockchain. American Library Association). The blocks are then chained together and distributed to a peer network of multiple trusted sources, each with a ‘key’ or individualized digital signature assigned to the transactions made by that member. The benefits of this system are the security provided by the design of the blockchain, less susceptible to fraudulent records due to verification processes, visibility and traceability of data, as well as a reduction by streamlining the flow of transactional data.
In supply chain management, there are a variety of challenges to overcome such as accurately tracing products through the supply chain, inventory, and product wastage management, and verifying claims and transactions (Kshetri. (2021). Blockchain and supply chain management. Elsevier). This is where blockchain technology can play a revolutionizing role by addressing the challenges faced in supply chain management. Blockchain technology has a high degree of adaptability, proactivity, reliability, responsiveness, and accountability. It is estimated that the market for blockchain solutions will reach US$ 17.9 billion by 2024. This paper explores the various applications of blockchain and the impact it has in different large corporations in food, automotive, production, retail, healthcare, and transport industries.
Walmart Blockchain – Food traceability
In 2018, the USA was challenged with a large outbreak of E. coli in romaine lettuce and Salmonella in several products such as breakfast cereals, eggs, and crackers among others. Recalling contaminated supplies with no label of where they came from can be problematic. This has left consumers and grocers with no choice, but to throw away a large amount of lettuce as they did not know where the vegetables were sourced from.
The massive amount of time and effort required to trace back tainted food to its source in a food supply industry that is largely paper-based led Walmart to take advantage of blockchain’s features (Ibid). They partnered with IBM to build a decentralized food traceability system based on Hyperledger Fabric, an open-source ledger technology. This makes the food supply chain processes more transparent and traceable. Every entity that handled the food or produce – from its source down to the store – is represented on the blockchain. In this system, the suppliers have to upload the data to the blockchain application with ease.
Walmart and IBM tested the system by running two proof of concept projects – tracing back mangoes sold in Walmart’s US stores and uncovering the sources of pork sold in China. In both projects, the system was found effective. In China, they were able to upload the certificates on the Blockchain to prove the authenticity of the pork; while in the US, they were able to cut down the tracing process from seven days to 2.2 seconds (Ibid).
In 2019, Walmart tracked over 500 food items using this blockchain system, and a year later, they were able to provide FDA with detailed information on the origin of a potential contamination within an hour. In 2021, Walmart partnered with the US Customs and Border Protection to start a program in tracking important foods. Currently, the company is tracking 1,500 food products on the blockchain.
Renault’s XCEED: blockchain for vehicle compliance certification
The French automaker, Renault Group launched the first automotive industrial scale blockchain project in April 2019. Leveraging blockchain’s compliance and conformity traceability attributes, the tool tracks and certifies the regulatory compliance of all vehicle components from design to production. This technology enables better responsiveness and efficiency in light of the newly enforced EU type-approval and testing rules on vehicles already on the market.
The platform is developed and produced by Faurecia (instrument panel and seat specialist), Renault Group, Knauf Industries (Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier of structural parts), Simoldes (interior trim specialist and tool manufacturer), and Coşkunöz (stamped metal parts manufacturer), in collaboration with IBM that was initially implemented in partner factories in Turkey, France, and Spain. A trusted network was built for sharing information between parts manufacturers and vehicle manufacturers, throughout the supply chain. Each party maintains data control while the security and integrity of the data in the system are kept.
The 6,000 regulatory features in each vehicle during the entire supply chain are stored on this technology. This allows the different suppliers to work collaboratively and efficiently in the factory and eliminates some operational costs. The platform promises a productivity gain of 15% to 30% for services concerns, a 10% reduction in management costs, and 50% less occurrence and expenditures on non-compliance (Ibid). In the test conducted in Renault’s Douai plant, they were able to archive over a million documents on the blockchain at a speed of 500 transactions per second. By 2024, the company is seeking to include 3,500 suppliers in their system.
The Blockchain Vice President of Ranault Group, Odile Panciatici, said, “Blockchain technology really comes into its own in a vast ecosystem involving a number of different companies, providing a link between the partners’ various processes, computer systems and databases. There are multiple uses for this type of technology in the automotive industry, where we have exchanges with countless actors from outside the company, such as suppliers, clients and independent distributors” (Ibid).
FUJITSU: Botanical Water Exchange: blockchain for sustainability
The telecommunications and computer hardware company, FUJITSU, runs an innovation lab in Brussels wherein they tie up with more than 40 clients to test fresh ideas. This solution center leverages blockchain technology and draws on a variety of open-source software, industry knowledge, and information on trends among others. The company has partnered with the Botanical Water Technologies (BWT) to create a blockchain-based water trading platform.
Zeroing in on sustainability and easing water scarcity, BWT uses its own patented technology to harvest, filter, and purify water during sugar milling and other food production. Relying on FUJITSU Track and Trust service, they created the Botanical Water Exchange (BWX) platform that enables transparent and secure trading of water, including the refinement, sales, purchase, delivery and usage of the product.
BWT equipped facilities such as juice concentration plants, sugar mills, and alcohol distilleries are able to purify water that would have been discarded from the production process. This drinkable, sustainable, and plant-derived water can be sold to other food and beverage manufacturers on the BWX platform or be put into circular use at their own facility. Factories that wish to use Botanical Water can purchase it through the platform from the nearest Botanical Water refinery, decreasing the transportation costs and reducing the environmental footprint. Companies can also donate similar amount of water consumed at their plants as part of their water positive ESG and corporate compliance programs.
This blockchain technology provides a real-time visibility of production, including weighbridges, pumps, and monitoring. It can verify the provenance of the product from source to purification (Ibid). A minimum of 1% of every BWX commercial transaction will be automatically donated to the Botanical Water Foundation. They aim to provide clean drinking water to 100 million of the world’s most vulnerable people by 2025.
De Beers: Tracr: product authenticity and transparency
Theft, counterfeiting, and association with forced labor are few of the risks involved in the diamond supply chain. Recording transactions and tracking the assets in digitally distributed, and immutable ledger can help mitigate these risks in the industry. The UK-based diamond mining and trading company, De Beers, introduced a blockchain-based platform named Tracr. Aside from security, this platform ensures authenticity and provenance of the diamonds, from miner to customer.
The digital ledger also works with 3D mapping, AI, machine-learning, and the Internet-of-Things. When the stone is mined, a 3D virtual replica is created and its properties such as cut, color, clarity, size, and weight are recorded on the system, including the name of the owner and the mine site, forming a digital twin. In this way, when the stone is broken down and assembled into a single product, each component can still be verified and traced back to the original stone (Ibid). The system brings all types of partners across the value chain into the platform, from mining to cutting and polishing, and lastly, retail.
In addition, the De Beers also aims to help small-scale miners (ASMs) that are frequently challenged to prove the origins of their gems with this blockchain technology. Several ASMs are on the platform to legitimately access the markets and be able to share the story of their gems. The company has registered more than 400,000 stones worth around $2 billion on Tracr. Furthermore, the platform has more than 30 industry partners, including Zales, Jared and Kay Jewelers.
Lumedic Blockchain: revenue cycle management platform
In 2018, Mike Nash, founder of Lumedic Exchange, had a preventive mole removal that he thought would be covered by his insurance, but realized otherwise. Prompted by this personal experience, he created a platform that aims to manage claims processing and enhance interoperability between healthcare providers and payers or insurers. It addresses the delays
in healthcare delivery, the time-consuming process for doctors to gain access to patient information or patients getting access to their test results and having to deal with the vague breakdown of medical bills.
The system works toward an end-to-end revenue cycle management platform that functions by deploying distributed ledger technology, establishing smart contracts, and including machine learning. Through these features, the platform gains the ability to immediately identify the patient and provide credible information based on their digital ID. Moreover, the technology also provides insight on the financial experiences of patients and paves the way for appropriate means for stakeholders to undergo convenient processes instead of the pre-dated ambiguous and time-consuming procedures.
While it allows to streamline the exchange of patient data and remove bottlenecks in bigger healthcare system, patients’ privacy and security are maintained. The system uses secure digital wallets on their mobile devices that gives them control over their healthcare data and permits them to determine how and with whom they will be shared with. In 2019, the Seattle-based startup was acquired by Providence St. Joseph Health, and partnered with Mastercard, Providence, and Cambia Health Solutions.
Last year, 16 of Providence’s hospitals and four clinics across Washington, Montana, and Oregon have started using the platform to speed up prior authorization, processing time from days to hours. Furthermore, more than 40,000 treatments were processed on Lumedic’s blockchain.
A.P. Moller-Maersk and IBM: trade document collaboration
The A.P. Moller-Maersk and IBM teamed up to develop a blockchain-enabled shipping solution that promotes better efficiency and improved global trade security. This industry-wide collaboration was initially joined by 94 organizations that include port and terminal operators worldwide, custom authorities in various countries, beneficial cargo owners, freight forwarders, and transportation and logistics companies, among others.
During their 12-month trial in 2018, TradeLens worked with dozens of ecosystem partners to assess opportunities that can avoid delays brought by documentation errors, and information lags. They were able to show how the technology can reduce the transit time of a shipment of packaging materials to a production line in the United States by 40 percent, amounting to thousands of dollars in savings. Further, they were able to store 154 million shipping events on the platform that were traditionally shared through EDI systems which are inflexible, complex, and incapable of real-time data sharing (Ibid).
With high application programming interface (API) flexibility, TradeLens allows participants to safely exchange information and collaborate accordingly on a global scale with ease. All the details and documentation are digitized for safe keeping as the integrated platform enables suppliers to constantly update their buyers with regard to the status of their shipments. Hence, providing supply chain visibility for the other stakeholders that take part in the operations. Currently, it has tracked more than 57 million container shipments and has recently completed its first end-to-end paperless trade finance transaction between British investment bank HSBC and agrichemical company Syngenta.
Author: Lucil Aguada
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