Supply Chain Safety in 2019: Making Blockchain Real
If you hadn’t heard about Blockchain before, 2018 was the year that ensured that you did. This underpinning of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin was hailed as the savior to practically all the world’s ills. One of the critical areas blockchain was hyped to help was in supply chain safety.
Blockchain provides an immutable ledger which can manage and record the state, ownership, transfer, location, time stamping and other associated item and movement details. Having every event and transaction securely logged and managed for an item could provide exactly what the supply chain needs for comprehensive safety. Nothing gets removed or edited from the ledger; any new information is added to the blockchain.
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One market space that was quick to jump on the blockchain bandwagon was in the food supply chain. Just over the last three months in the US there have been massive, country-wide recalls in produce and meats. Protecting and tracking product in the supply chain, as well as facilitating recalls once out of it are now critical-level priorities in the food industry. New, innovative solutions are incredibly in demand.
Blockchain is a completely digital platform. The supply chain exists in the physical world. Where shall the two meet?
Major technology vendors and major global retailers are starting to embrace blockchain as a foundation for a food safety technology platform in the food supply chain. Barcoded labels are used on product bins to track throughout the food supply chain, being recorded in the immutable blockchain ledger.
Europe’s largest retailer, Carrefour is using blockchain technology in an important milestone in its 2022 transformation strategy:
- The technology will allow producers, processors, distributors and other players in the food supply chain to provide traceability information about produce.
- This information could include dates, places, farm buildings, distribution channels and potential treatments which customers can access using QR codes on product labels.
- Using this blockchain platform, food can be quickly traced back to its origins in minutes rather than days or weeks.
This is a great leap in trust in the food supply chain. Or is it?
In this type of system, barcodes are used throughout as the data entry lynchpin. Scanned, or numbers physically entered, barcode information is placed in the blockchain at each step, with its bank-safe immutability and protections. But what about that barcode? It isn’t bank safe or protected in any way.
Barcodes are easily copied. Barcodes are easily fabricated. Where are the protections on the barcode itself?
If supply chain parties are not sure that they are entering/scanning an authentic and trusted barcode, with the original provenance of the items in the shipper, then there is doubt for the entire supply chain of the item.
It is possible to leverage the inherent nature of the printing process to derive a digital e-fingerprint for each and every barcode. Meaning, you could print two “identical” barcodes in the physical world. But digitally, they would have two distinct, and unique digital e-fingerprints for them. This is the missing link to complete the circle of trust in a blockchain-enabled safe supply chain. The barcode itself must be protected.
Vendors like Systech have seen this significant gap, and we have created the software platform necessary to e-fingerprint barcodes, and provide the authentication solution to link the physical product to the digital world of blockchain – helping to ensure a truly safe supply chain.
In 2019, companies will know what blockchain is. They will now need to figure out how to make it “real” for their supply chains. Eliminating the gap in barcode safety will be a critical element in doing so.
By Steve Tallant, Director Product Management and Marketing, Systech