While businesses have been embracing blockchain and its tracking abilities, a new project is already underway to help supply chains. Solutions like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are speeding up delivery and collecting more data for companies. However, this piece explores what’s next for supply chain managers: Hyperledger Grid.
But before you understand what is Hyperledger Grid and what transformation would it bring, let’s discuss the impact of blockchain in supply chain management. We shall cover the challenges that exist in the supply chain industry, how blockchain will transform the supply chain and a brief discussion about Hyperledger Grid.
Supply chains contain a vast amount of information on everything from a purchase order to how many parts are contained within one item. This jumble of data can lead to anyone losing information or allowing an order to fall through the cracks. However, businesses should not despair; a new method of tracking items through the supply chain is quickly being adopted.
Blockchain is a technology that can monitor products as they traverse the journey from creation to end-user delivery. There are numerous benefits of using this technology, and some companies are already reaping the rewards of doing so.
Blockchain: What Is It?
Traditionally when people think of blockchain, it’s often associated with online transactions, like Bitcoin. However, blockchain also can be used to record an item’s progress through a supply chain. Many companies have embraced blockchain’s record-keeping abilities to collaborate with people no matter their location.
Blockchain’s ability to document every action within a system is immensely helpful to supply chain companies. Every recorded action is an individual block, which links to the action before and after it, thus creating a chain of information. It is impossible to delete or change information once it has been recorded. Any transaction that contains value can be recorded through the blockchain.
Supply chain managers have begun using this system to record the journey of a product from beginning to end-user. It will help eliminate part of the complexity of the processes but it will increase the transparency of supply chains overall.
The Supply Chain: How Blockchain is Changing the Processes
When businesses have used blockchain technology in their supply chains, there have been a variety of benefits. Blockchain can reduce time delays, added costs, and human errors through its ability to document the history of a product.
Following a product’s journey through the supply chain means businesses have documentation of its exact origin and checkpoints along the way. It might not be an individual product that companies ship, so blockchain also notes the number of items in a shipment. It ensures that the same amount of product shipped from a manufacturer arrives at a supplier.
This product roadmap built by blockchain increases trust between not only people within a company but between consumers and business. If a shipment needs a certification (like food items need) or fair trade verification, records saved on the blockchain can notify businesses when the approval takes place. When recalls occur, manufacturers can quickly locate the origin point of the problem through the record logs.
All relevant parties also benefit from seeing all of this information. In real-time, parties can view where a product is or any fixes needed to a shipment. This ability makes product maintenance, assembly and delivery run smoother.
The blockchain can record any shipment notification such as a change in order destination or receipts associated with a load of goods or individual products. Humans can accidentally lose this information when either incorrectly noting the change or forgetting to record it.
In Practice: How Companies are Using Blockchain in Their Supply Chains?
From tracking seafood to making sure diamonds are safely sourced, blockchain is already helping businesses with their supply chains. A few examples below showcase the multiple ways that blockchain can be implemented in a supply chain.
Leading suppliers of precious stones and diamonds, De Beers and Fura Gems, have been using blockchain to track their stone’s journey. Since many precious stones are sourced from areas of conflict where workers are often mistreated, and these companies and their consumers want to be reassured the end product didn’t come from a questionable source.
Fura Gem’s head of investor relations, Vikram Pathak, said in an interview with Forbes,
What we [are able to say using blockchain technology] is that these minerals have come from a mine in Columbia, where they were shipped to India to be cut and polished, and combined in a bulk container and transferred to a wholesaler in Switzerland, and from there were sent to multiple retailers in the UK and Canada.
The food industry is another space that relies on blockchain to account for where the food originated and its pathway to consumers. IBM has partnered with a variety of food companies to help with the traceability of food products. Walmart and Sam’s Club have recently mandated their suppliers of leafy greens to use IBM’s blockchain technology to respond faster in recall situations. The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) has also announced a partnership with IBM for a blockchain-based seafood supply chain traceability program. This project will involve everyone from harvesters, processors, and retailers to build a centralized system for data control.
Nestlé has announced its plans to open up its blockchain platform to consumers. Their goal is to allow customers to trace the journey of their food. The pilot program will follow milk from farms in New Zealand to warehouses in the Middle East. Benjamin Ware, Nestlé’s Global Head of Responsible Sourcing said in a company press release,
This open blockchain technology will allow anyone, anywhere in the world to assess our responsible sourcing facts and figures.
What is Hyperledger Grid?
Starting in late 2018, Hyperledger, a blockchain project from the Linus Foundation, created a new platform called Hyperledger Grid. This Grid is meant to help companies with expediting the evolution of ledger-based results that can handle any cross-industry situation. In layman’s terms, Hyperledger Grid is an ecosystem of technologies, frameworks, and libraries that work together in order to help businesses choose the best option for supply chain issues within various industries and markets.
Grid pulls together the different components across a Hyperledger ecosystem to build a functioning stack of data information. Unlike other blockchain solutions, Grid aims to give companies a higher-level set of intelligence, such as data types specific to supply chains, data models, and standards. It also helps organizations with solving multi-party interactions and issues.
The two main priorities of Grid are to:
- Give businesses a reference source for possible application of supply chain-centric data types, data models, and smart contract business logic, all of which are tied to existing, open standards and industry best practices.
- Create a single, effective business solution from blending together pieces of the Hyperledger stack.
Unlike other technology solutions, Grid is not an application; however, developers can use the frameworks provided to build their own software. Additionally, Grid uses blockchain but is not a blockchain technology itself.
Although Grid is still under development, Hyperledger is looking for prospective users for the ecosystem. One area where Grid could help businesses is by providing execution plans for supply chain situations that happen during basic transactions. These types of situations tied to asset management include transformation or refinement, exchange, and tracking.
Who is using Hyperledger Grid?
Currently, there are only a handful of companies trying out Hyperledger Grid to bring it into daily use. Agricultural company Cargill is one of these businesses, and it aims to use the solution for inclusivity within the food and agriculture supply chains.
Keith Narr, Vice President of Cargill Digital Labs, said,
Technology has the power to help us solve some of the greatest challenges facing the food and ag supply chains, and also equip us to better serve our customers. Everyone should have access to the best thinking and digital solutions available, and Hyperledger Grid is a key first step in bringing that vision to reality.
Target, one of the users of Cargill-supplied food items, will also join in beta testing of the technology. “Solving distributed transactions within our own ecosystems was a hard task; image solving distributed transactions at once!” said Joel Crabb, vice president of architecture at Target, in a press release.
By partnering with other companies, Grid developers can test everyday uses and possible problems in real-time. It also lets the end-user point out which options work better than others. Although Grid is still under testing and is not yet available to all businesses, managers should be aware of it. This solution will help bring together various parts of the supply chain into one
place. In the end, Grid will improve overall company decision making.
Blockchain is transforming the supply chain with its ability to record every action associated with an item. Businesses can be more accountable and more easily trace their shipments when a blockchain network is following a product’s journey. Companies who have already executed this technology in their supply chain are building increased trust between their end-user and themselves.
If you are ready to transform the supply chain of your products, consult our blockchain consultants and get the POC done in just 4 weeks.
Amanda Peterson is a contributor to Enlightened Digital and software engineer in New York City. Her hobbies include browsing record stores and binging Netflix with her Puggle, Hendrix.
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