Leveraging Blockchain and IoT to Digitize Your Supply Chain? You Should Read This

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Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at MIT on the emerging applications of Blockchain for supply chains.

I enjoy speaking about these topics just as much as I enjoy actually building products and digital solutions, because I believe the two go hand in hand. Part of innovation is being surrounded by likeminded people, and at MIT I was fortunate to be right beside Michael Casey from MIT Media Lab, Brigid McDermott from IBM, Dan Harple from Context Labs, and many others.

The key takeaway from the talk (for those that missed it) was that, while there are plenty of amazing use cases for blockchain and IoT as they relate to supply chain practices, we should always strive to use these technologies for good — and continue exploring how tomorrow’s innovations can create more transparent, ethical, secure, efficient, and sustainable supply chains.

Blockchain truly has the potential to change the world. And we’re already seeing how it can help us eliminate the use of conflict minerals, reduce waste, ensure safe transport of goods that can spoil, and so much more.

Here is how blockchain and IoT can best be leveraged to digitize and improve any supply chain:

There isn’t a single supply chain process that could not benefit from blockchain technology.

Food safety, pharmaceutical temperature monitoring, product verification to prevent counterfeiting — the list goes on and on. The real application of blockchain technology is to track a given product in a way where every single party involved always knows where that product came from, its current status, and where it’s headed next.

A blockchain is a ledger, plain and simple. And every single year, billions of dollars are lost due to product recalls, misplaced shipments, or fraud. After all, when things are subjected to human error, chances are, errors will be made.

Blockchain technology has the ability to solve for many of these pain points along a supply chain, including security, authentication, compliance, safety, social responsibility, and more.

Let me give you an example.

Cold Chain Monitoring

My firm, Chronicled, recently completed a field test with a top five pharmaceutical company utilizing our NFC Temperature Logger to track pharmaceutical drugs for cold chain compliance. How this works is, when certain drugs are shipped between warehouses, they need to be kept within specific temperature bounds to ensure they don’t spoil. If a package goes outside those temperate limits, the drug can go bad — and unless that activity is tracked and communicated effectively, bad drugs can end up being delivered to hospitals and other providers, and then given to patients and customers.

This is a huge issue for the pharmaceutical industry.

Our value-add, through the use of the blockchain, is in creating hardware that stays with the product all the way from start to finish and tracks these temperatures. This NFC Temperature Logger is smaller, cheaper, and linked to each parcel’s shipment data. Once the shipment has been delivered, it then displays its calibration certificate digitally, ensuring it stayed within all temperature bounds throughout the duration of its travels.

Since we’ve had this successful field test, we see the following as areas for continued innovation and improvement, which are features we provide through our cold chain software platform:

1. Remote Temperature Logger Control

Shipping hundreds of temperature loggers across dozens of products requires a significant amount of physical labor to turn off all the loggers and fetch the data. With our software platform, it’s possible to turn off the loggers remotely, which saves warehouse workers thousands of hours in manual labor.

2. “Recommended Actions” instead of “Unintelligent Alerts”

Today, hardware-based temperature loggers provide a simple alert when there is an excursion — meaning a product has gone outside the temperature bounds. But there is no intelligence or “recommended action” that occurs when this happens.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that recommended actions can vary for each pharmaceutical product, depending on the stability profile and TOR (i.e. Time Out of Refrigerator) budgeting. Still, there is nothing more frustrating than having temp logger alerts going off and not knowing what to do with the product. What happens then? Does it get shipped back to the client? To the manufacturer? Destroyed? These are massive frustrations for a distributor.

We are in the process of building a “Recommended Actions” module in our software dashboard, so that for each cold chain product, the manufacturer can program the logic. For example: “If Product is out of bounds for 8.5 hours, send back to manufacturer.”

So instead of dealing with “unintelligent alerts,” when someone scans the logger, it is much better to provide the coinciding Recommended Action.

3. Displaying Digital Calibration Certificates

Another problem inherent in hardware-based temperature loggers is that the calibration certificate must be shipped as a physical piece of paper.

This is something we are streamlining with our software platform. We upload the calibration certificate for each logger digitally, so that when a non-permissioned user taps the temperature logger with a mobile phone, the first thing they see is the Recommended Action and a button to view the digital calibration certificate, along with the log-in screen for permissioned users to see the actual temperature profile data.

4. Linking Digital Identities of Loggers and Items with ERP Integration

Another benefit of utilizing blockchain and a software-driven platform for supply chain processes is the fact that we can integrate seamlessly with common ERP systems, so both item and logger identities can be linked.

For example, sGTINS can be pulled into the mobile device for a shipment, and then all of the sGTINS can be linked to the logger identities at the activation stage with a simple bar code scan. This means that when temperature loggers are being applied, the identity of each logger can be linked on the back-end to the identity of the specific product, so that when temperature data is being viewed, it applies to a specific product and not necessarily to a generic temp logger identity.

5. DSCSA Integration

And finally, our software has the potential for easy integration with DSCSA serialization efforts.

We are actually in the process of working with LinkLab on a joint venture called The MediLedger Project, to utilize blockchain for pharmaceutical serialization and traceability.

The two companies recently hosted a group of big 10 pharma manufacturers, big 10 wholesalers and distributors, and end customers to begin work on a pilot. Our role here is to use the blockchain to track and trace serial numbers of pharmaceutical drugs along the supply chain with a system that eliminates sending duplicate serial numbers to multiple parties and that eliminates leakage of any private business data.

This is an exciting time to be thinking about supply chains and getting involved parties what they need, when they need it, in a way that promotes trust alongside the exchange of value.

And I couldn’t be more excited to be at the forefront of it all.