As we touched upon in our first article of this series, nearly a decade after its introduction, Fortune 500 companies are in a love affair with the potential of blockchain technology. Layer applications are being developed at a blistering rate. Businesses, as a result, are fascinated with scooping up patents wherever they can. And go figure, the most rapacious applicant is none other than the Fortune 500’s #1 company.
Walmart currently has at least 4 blockchain-related approved or pending patents. Among its goals is to help quickly and accurately clear recalled foods from shelves. The company announced recently that its “leafy greens” suppliers must work with the IBM Food Trust network to create end-to-end traceability. This comes on the heels of an E. coli outbreak traced back to Arizona. Customers, however, were unable to identify where purchased items had been grown.
Distributed ledger technology makes this incredibly easy by allowing for individual items to be tagged and tracked from production to storefront. By scanning a sticker, stores and customers can trace any product back to where and when it was grown, or the factory where it was created. And thanks to the distributed, trustless nature of this database, the customer knows that the information has not been altered or forged in any way.
Customers who spring extra for certified organic and fair trade items will find an aligned value prop here in authenticating origin of these products.
Looking to shake up how people sell unneeded items, Walmart is also developing a blockchain-based marketplace according to another of its patent filings. The company claims that customers don’t always plan to use an item for its lifespan and are generally “left to their own devices to arrange for a subsequent resale.” In response, Walmart’s blockchain-based marketplace could provide “additional support to greatly ease and facilitate their later reselling of items.”
Not to mention, goodbye receipts!
With item transaction history stored in Walmart’s database, the company can verify if the item you’re returning was purchased from the store. This cuts down fraud and removes the inconvenience of customer receipts.
Another patent shows Walmart’s plans for a blockchain-based delivery and delivery management system. Walmart has an interest in using distributed ledgers to track warehouse levels and autonomous drone movements.
Why? Counterfeit Parts
The guarantee-of-authenticity is highly valuable for industries where counterfeit parts are a serious and potentially life-threatening problem. This includes the airline industry. In fact, nearly two dozen plane crashes in the past 10 years have been linked to unapproved parts failing. By adopting a blockchain record system for purchased parts, airlines can track and verify that all plane parts were tested to meet safety and quality standards.
Eighty-six percent of the airline industry wants to integrate blockchain into their systems within the next 3 years, according to an interview Accenture did with IBD. If blockchain can help root-out dangerous parts that slip through the cracks of current enforcement methods, it’s no exaggeration to say that the technology will literally save lives.
Side note: Boeing is also looking to use blockchain for air traffic control lane assignments. It wouldn’t be surprising to see blockchain tech use by the FAA in the near future, too.
Industry: Fashion & Jewelry
Why? Conflict & Slavery-free guarantees
DLT can also be used to guarantee the provenance of clothing and jewelry. This means customers can now avoid sweatshop-produced goods or conflict gems. Leading brands can ensure that they are sourcing their materials from ethical producers.
This is especially important now that millennial consumers are demanding more social responsibility from the brands they support. Companies like Patagonia that tout their transparency and sustainability as major selling points are prime candidates for blockchain-ensured supply-chain tracking.
This modernization doesn’t come without its costs, however. Most fashion companies see this step-by-step tracking system as a large hurdle to cross. It requires global collaboration to integrate all parties onto the same blockchain system.
For example, designer Martine Jarlgaard did a one-off experiment using the technology when presenting organic British alpaca garments in 2017. Each piece featured a scannable tag that revealed the history of each garment, right down to the name of the alpacas sheared to make each sweater.
Yet for now, most jewelry and clothing companies see this as a luxury feature. The time and effort that goes into tracking under current conditions are very costly and significantly increases the cost-of-production.
Why? Regulatory Compliance
Thanks to its ability to verify and record transactions in real time, blockchain is also the perfect solution to the pharmaceutical industry’s supply chain compliance requirements. Blockchain allows drug manufacturers to track each pill from creation to patient distribution. This is a key requirement of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act which was enacted in November 2013.
Pfizer and Genentech have already a completed a pilot program using blockchain for exactly this purpose. The program could render all previous supply chain tracking methods obsolete thanks to blockchain’s inherent efficiencies and security. Ideally, this could also allow any illegally sold medicine to be traced by authorities, providing a much-needed clamp-down on things like opioid availability.
Industry experts are speculating blockchain technology will underpin every supply chain operating system in short order. It’s extremely clear why.
The only downside is establishing the infrastructure. Fortunately, companies like IBM are already streamlining with their Blockchain-as-a-Service for supply chain applications. Their TradeLens platform is a massive collaboration that’s providing real-time data from over one million events around the world daily.
As blockchain technology matures, and the applications become more robust, it will continue to revolutionize and optimize the way our physical world moves around us.