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Blockchain Solution Employs NFC for Supply Chain Accountability

ShipChain and GTX are partnering to offer a solution that captures supply chain data throughout perishable goods' journey from manufacturer to consumer, with a goal of boosting visibility and trust.
By Claire Swedberg

To use the system, a company would first acquire the full solution from ShipChain, including the NFC sensor labels and the cloud-based software, which is provided as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. A 13.56 MHz tag, compliant with the ISO 14443 standard, is attached to each crate or pallet loaded with perishable goods; then, every time the shipment passes hands from one party to another, a worker reads the label via his or her mobile phone.

The credit-card-sized labels can collect data at intervals pre-set by a user, ranging from every 10 seconds to every nine hours. With the system in place, a user simply downloads the ShipChain app to access the data, and to add to the digital record of a product's transportation from the point of manufacture or harvest to the customer. The data is then forwarded to the cloud-based software, which updates the digital ledger and displays the information for the individual using the phone. "Everything is time-stamped and encrypted," Bertagna says. "There is no way to modify that data."

As the product is stored or transported, the sensor continuously captures temperature data at the user's pre-set intervals. It then goes dormant between measurements. At each transition point along the supply chain, as the item transfers from the custody of one partner to another, users can access and update that data. In that way, if the temperature has deviated beyond the appropriate thresholds, that information will be indicated and stored, and will thus be available to supply chain participants in real time so they can address the problem.

The sensor tags typically have a battery life of three to four months, though even if the battery dies, the data will be stored in the label's chip so it can be captured when interrogated. However, temperature readings will not be captured without the battery. The system can collect up to 10,000 data points and then be reset to collect another 10,000 points.

The software enables users to not only confirm temperatures but also ensure that products are at the proper location, on schedule, and that an entire order (such as 10 pallet loads) remains together. Because the data is immutable, Bertagna says, the solution can provide data everyone can trust. "We're going to know if perishables sat in the sun, and whether that impacts the quality of the product," he states. "There's no way for anyone to deny it—everything [is] time-stamped and encrypted."

The tags are not rechargeable. However, by the first quarter of 2020, the company intends to release a reusable version of the sensor tag with rechargeable batteries. They can also be affixed via adhesive or be screwed into or taped inside a container. The tags come with a built-in chip from NXP Semiconductors.

According to Bertagna, the system will also help companies meet future regulatory requirements as government agencies release new guidelines regarding food safety and management. "It puts us ahead of the curve when it comes to government mandates," Monarch adds. GTX also offers an NFC sensor tag that comes with a GPS device to track its own location. The company can also build Bluetooth and cellular units in the device, which is typically about the size of a zippo lighter.

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