Blockchain has been receiving a considerable amount of attention over the last few years. In large part, this is because of popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, which are taking the world by storm. In fact, experts predict that Bitcoin could reach $300,000 at some point. As such, it comes as no surprise that people are taking notice.
What’s receiving less attention, though, is the role that blockchain is playing in transforming various industries—especially logistics. Blockchain is one of the most groundbreaking technologies that we have seen to date in logistics—and one of the top buzzwords to keep in mind in 2021.
Keep reading to learn more about the massive role that blockchain is playing in the transformation of the logistics industry.
Before we move forward and focus on use cases in logistics, it’s important to understand what a blockchain is and how it works.
Put simply, a blockchain is a digital record of transactions that's spread across a decentralized and distributed network of computers. In other words, there's no central or database in a blockchain, and no party has complete control over it.
Rather, all transactions are open and maintained over a peer-to-peer (P2P) network. At the same time, it's possible to encrypt transactions for security purposes.
Because of the decentralized nature of a blockchain, bad actors can’t modify it. To change a blockchain, a hacker would need simultaneous access to all computers spread across a P2P network. Essentially, this would be impossible.
Efficiency means everything in logistics. To compete in today’s fast-paced, digital economy, companies need to move products quickly and seamlessly across the supply chain. Small bottlenecks and clerical mistakes can lead to much larger issues, slowing down operations and creating financial loss.
By using a decentralized public ledger system, logistics providers can reduce bottlenecks and back-end administrative issues. At the same time, they can gain instant visibility into shipping data and eliminate third-party middlemen.
One term that you’ll often see in conversations about blockchain is smart contracts.
In simple terms, a smart contract is a self-executing contract where the parties to the agreement write its terms into lines of code and send them across a network.
When transactions happen in a smart contract, the blockchain processes them automatically, without human intervention. As a result, transactions become fully traceable, completely transparent, and irreversible.
For example, a warehouse might receive a shipping container from a partner. As soon as the item arrives, an electronic payment can go out.
A smart contract could eliminate all of the manual work that would otherwise go into this process. Some of these tasks include producing a paper invoice, sending it back manually, and waiting for it to clear. And processes that might take weeks to complete could be handled instantly, without any manual labor. Even billing discrepancies could be taken care of automatically using blockchain technology.
Now that you have a basic understanding of how a blockchain works and how it may apply to logistics, here are some real-world examples of companies that are using it.
Skuchain offers proof of province codes, or Popcodes, to track valuable items during shipment. This is done through crypto-serialization—in other words, putting unique identifiers on products and packages to help companies track the flow of goods at the stock keeping unit (SKU) level.
“A tokenized identifier on the blockchain, Popcodes provide bank-grade traceability to track physical value in the supply chain,” says the company. “Our patented Popcode technology is sophisticated in its ability to track sub-assemblies, parts, and raw materials used to make a finished product, so there are no gaps in visibility to an enterprise throughout the product life cycle.”
Here's another company that uses blockchain in a sophisticated way.
Sweetbridge is working to improve supply chain flexibility and liquidity. The company offers real-time auditing ledgers and smart contracts. It also has its own cryptocurrency, the Sweetcoin, for rapidly settling payment disputes.
Waltonchain is a company that tracks radio frequency identification (RFID) data across the supply chain. The company offers Waltoncoins (WTC) as its native cryptocurrency. Waltoncoins can help pay for transactions. They can also help create subchains on Waltonchain's own blockchain.
It’s worth noting that the Waltonchain—which is based in China—was named after Charlie Walton, the inventor of RFID technology.
Blockfreight uses blockchain to prevent wasteful payments during shipping. Founded in 2017, Blockfreight’s technology is engineered to support 360 million containers.
According to the company, a Blockfreight transaction is a standard unit of data that packages shipping data together. That way, shipping can happen quickly and reliably from anyone to anywhere and from any location.
Ready for one more?
California-based MuleChain offers a decentralized peer-to-peer delivery network to streamline shipping.
In a MuleChain transaction, shippers sign smart contracts with “mules” who are traveling along similar routes. After negotiating, mules can deliver shippers’ items. This saves time and money. Mulechain operates using MCX coins as a currency.
At this point, you’re probably wondering how to use blockchain in your organization.
The truth is that blockchain works only with wide-scale adoption. In other words, an entire supply chain needs to be standardized with a unique identifier in order for it to work.
This means all partners involved will need to standardize on specific fields within their systems. Otherwise, the blockchain won't be effective. One or two partners can’t simply start using blockchain on their own.
For this reason, blockchain adoption has been somewhat slow within the logistics industry. However, this is starting to change as awareness is quickly spreading about its benefits.
And looking forward, it’s clear that blockchain will continue to play a massive role throughout the industry, ushering in a new era. That being the case, the sooner you get up to speed with blockchain technology, the sooner you can start using it.
Truth be told, blockchain is a complex technology. You can’t just roll out blockchain without knowing how it works and expect great results. That being the case, you need to do your due diligence, study how it works, and survey your options. If you’re considering using blockchain to power your supply chain and logistics efforts, be sure to examine all available options to find the one that works best for your unique use case. The last thing you want is to transform your operations only to find out the hard way you chose the wrong solution.
To push blockchain adoption forward, companies need to plan big, start small, and focus on scaling. It’s the same process that companies use to push most technologies forward across a supply chain. In all likelihood, it will take some time to drive blockchain adoption and obtain buy-in from all of your partners.
While you work on setting the stage for a larger blockchain migration across your supply chain, your company can lay the groundwork through digital transformation. Start by implementing process changes and data mapping across all of your touchpoints, replacing paper systems and manual processes with mobile technologies and automation.
To learn how Vector can help you lay the groundwork for a potential blockchain migration, click here.
This post was written by Justin Reynolds. Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling.