When your CEO asks you to get some of that blockchain he has heard so much about, many CTOs are left trying to explain that you just can’t buy blockchain. But as the underlying technology for a suite of new supply chain solutions, blockchain will be extremely useful to the CEO – even if he doesn’t understand exactly what it is.
Fortunately, more companies are building applications to run on blockchain, which provides a trusted, immutable digital record of transactions and is viewed as a game-changing technology for the supply chain. Chattanooga, TN-based BlockArray is one of the companies working to develop blockchain-enabled solutions, and it is looking for companies to participate in pilot studies.
“It’s using an open-source blockchain, Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum enterprise,” co-founder San Bacha explains to FreightWaves.
BlockArray, which has been self-funded since launching earlier this year, has spent plenty of time doing research and trial and error, Bacha says, but is now ready with an alpha version of the solution for shippers and carriers to pilot. He adds that the trials will help BlockArray fine-tune based on feedback.
“Right now we’re focused on chain of custody because that is the most compelling use case for blockchain,” Bacha says.
That chain-of-custody is based on product barcodes. Barcodes must meet GS1 standards, which include a unique 6- to 9-digit company code as well as “product numbers” that identify the product. The 12th digit is the “check digit.”
The BlockArray solution breaks down that 12-digit code into “constituent parts,” parses them and builds them into a url/uri/mobile app. The resulting information indicates if the product is authentic or whether it may have been tampered with.
All this information is entered into the blockchain through the barcode, which is purchased from GS1. Barcodes are essentially “hex data,” the company explains. Once this information is entered, BlockArray takes the barcodes associated with the customer’s account and creates a hash. “Then using the Keccak-256 hash, a transaction is signed on the online site and submitted to the smart contract,” the company explains.
The smart contract is then used to track products through the supply chain. By aggregating all the information, complete visibility will be available. In the case of a food product, the blockchain would allow users to see things such as what organization certified the product, the producer, reviews, potential hazards, recalls and more.
The BlockArray vision is larger than just this, though, with potential applications in warehouse management and trailer usage optimization among others. Bacha explains that companies could use information on the blockchain that would allow several fleets to better utilize trailers as part of a trailer pool.
The company sees potential products from visual smart contracts, mobile apps, ELD integration, virtualized shipping pools, and ERP integrations.
One of the benefits of the solutions is the ability to let companies “speak” to each other. “With Hyperledger Fabric, [each company] could have their own Hyperledger Fabric in the cloud and two companies could be talking to each other and no one will be able to see they are talking to each other,” he says.
Bacha says the company hopes to have a blockchain-enabled product on the market by April that would capture ELD and HOS data for drivers. Other products down the line might include a way for small carriers and contractors to list unused capacity in their trailers and allow the marketplace to bid on that capacity through the ELD integration. The entire process, from the listing, to the bidding, to pickup and final delivery would be contained within the blockchain.
BlockArray hopes to launch its barcode website and mobile app in the first quarter of 2018 with visual smart contracts launching in the third quarter.
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