The term “blockchain” has become a part of our collective lexicon in the last few years, though many still aren’t sure exactly what it means, or how it applies to their life, job or industry. Blockchain came to prominence as a form of managing and tracking the exchange of cryptocurrency like bitcoin, and is still used synonymously with these transactions. However, blockchain is, more simply, a way to track and store information in a secure place that is accessible to those operating within its parameters. How does that apply to the cold chain? Recently, you’ve probably heard a lot of chatter about how blockchain could be used within the supply chain industry, and in the case of some large corporations - like Wal-Mart - it already is. Blockchain provides a system for detailed record collection not managed by a central authority, but instead maintained by those within the system in a permanent, unchangeable log.
Read on to learn how blockchain can offer 3PLs some promising solutions to the industry’s biggest challenges.
Transparency is all the buzz across the supply chain industry these days, with new technology making real-time tracking easier than ever, and consumer intelligence and savviness leading to greater demand. The provenance of our food has become ever more important over the last decade, and blockchain can provide an accurate and fast way to show our food’s journey from farm to processor to storage to table.
Combined with IoT devices that can send input directly from storage facilities, pallets, or trucks, blockchain offers track-and-trace abilities beyond the industry standard. And once factual data has been recorded in the blockchain, it is essentially impossible to modify or tamper with, leading to better security and increased accuracy.
As anyone operating along the cold chain knows, the industry thrives or withers with its ability (or failure) to comply with federal and global regulations. Enter blockchain, which boasts real-time records that can help organizations prove their compliance. This is especially valuable in an industry where regulations frequently change or undergo modifications. Current data management can be sluggish and is susceptible to delays, but blockchain (again, combined with IoT tracking technology) offers an up-to-the-moment, permanent record that can help companies avoid fines or consequences that come with non-compliance.
Food recalls can bring cold chain operations to a screeching halt, along with serious health risks to end consumers. Recalls impact the chain at every level - they create food waste, revenue loss for 3PLs, damaged trust with retailers and inconvenience and potential illness for consumers. Blockchain has the potential to drastically reduce the negative implications of a food recall, by allowing the industry to trace the precise origin of tainted food. While tracking down the source of food-born illness has previously been a process that could take weeks, blockchain logs make it almost instantaneous. In addition, the food’s destination and journey through the supply chain would be tracked, allowing the industry to determine possible areas of cross-contamination and stop potentially dangerous items from reaching retailers and consumers, while preserving items that are safe but may have otherwise been recalled. This kind of tracking and accuracy creates more trust between every link in the cold chain.
Of course, there are always risks when sharing access to such a sensitive database that allows users to add their own data. However, combined with evolving IoT technology that transmits real-time, highly accurate data, blockchain can bring about a new evolution in our industry. Stay tuned for real examples of the ways blockchain is being used by 3PLs and in the meantime, check out our blog on blockchain and other trends the cold chain will see this year.