NFC with Blockchain Tracks COVID-19 Test Kits, PPEs

SUKU and Smartrac have teamed up to build a solution for the authentication and test result verification of goods being manufactured, shipped and purchased around the world, to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Published: September 11, 2020

Blockchain technology company SUKU has developed a solution to verify and authenticate kits for COVID-19 and antibody testing, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. The company’s blockchain solution can employ the NFC read data not only to prove the authenticity of a kit or protective gear, but to view information about the product’s origins and to capture test results, thereby helping to identify COVID-19 hotspots. The system employs NFC tags from Smartrac (an Avery Dennison company), with Avery Dennison’s Digital Identity Platform feeding data to the SUKU application.

In the spring of this year, SUKU began working with Smartrac to develop the NFC solution for test kit and PPE management. The company is now in conversations with several users, including laboratories, distributors and governments that are expected to begin deploying the technology during the coming weeks or months. The solution is aimed at not only proving the authenticity of products, but also bringing visibility to the supply chain.

SUKU’s Yonathan Lapchik

In the case of test kits, labs that make the kits will apply tags to goods. For PPE, the manufacturers or distributors can apply the tags, after which users can verify where the products came from, in order to prevent fake or noncertified products from being purchased. The solution also includes an app for users of personal antibody or COVID-19 virus test kits, to document the test and its results, and to thereby gain more information about healthcare for their condition, while also helping healthcare providers collect result data.

Since the SUKU brand was released three years ago, the company has aimed it at connecting the physical and digital worlds for brands and retailers, according to Yonathan Lapchik, SUKU’s CEO. “In every use case,” he says, “we connect a physical asset to a digital one.” By creating a digital identity for an item that moves through a supply chain, users can then have a single source of immutable information regarding where and when a particular product was made.

The technology is well positioned to address the challenges around COVID-19 product supplies that are in high demand and being shipped in large volume worldwide, Lapchik says—namely, test kits and PPE. In some cases, fake PPEs are making their way into the supply chain, and some goods are rerouted by distributors. As a result, end users, such as hospitals, schools or consumers, have no way of verifying the authenticity of the products they are buying.

Development of the SUKU solution, Lapchik explains, was prompted by a request from the healthcare products industry. Partners that provide PPEs to the United States approached the company seeking a way to create a digital record of each personal protection product’s authenticity. The same problem is causing disruption for those using test kits. “If you look at test kits,” he says, “there was a problem related to visibility of that kit. Is it authentic? Where was it made?” Additionally, Lapchik notes, the capture of test results has not been consistent, with real-time, integrated data that healthcare providers or local health agencies have access to.

SUKU began working with Smartrac to customize its blockchain solution for these use cases. Smartrac is providing its pre-encoded NFC Circus nTag adhesive inlays, according to Amir Khoshniyati, Avery Dennison’s head of NFC business, and it has worked with SUKU to develop the most efficient way to tag the test kits and other products so that the application will not interfere with manufacturers’ operations. Companies are expected to take the technology live this month, including labs that make the test kits, as well as distributors and governments.

With regard to the laboratories that manufacture test kits, the system would work this way: pre-encoded Smartrac Circus 213 NFC tags with NXP NTAG chips will be provided to the lab, and will then be applied to each kit as it is manufactured. Each tag’s unique ID number is linked to the production SKU, along with the site and date of manufacture. The company provides specific instructions indicating how the tag can be applied. “We wanted to make sure the tags themselves authenticate the kit,” Khoshniyati states, “but that there was also a streamlined manner to apply the tags.”

The NFC and test kit data is then stored on SUKU’s blockchain, creating an immutable record for that kit. The kit is delivered to a hospital or retailer and, in some cases, directly to a user, such as an individual using the kit at home or at a business. At this point, the user or retailer can read the tag to confirm its authenticity, as well as whether it came from an approved lab.

When taking the test, if a user downloads the SUKU app, he or she can simply read the NFC tag on the kit using a mobile phone. That person will then receive a form to fill out with basic information, such as his or her name, gender and age. If that individual so chooses, he or she can take a picture of the result and upload that information to the software. That data will then be stored in the blockchain, and it can be shared with healthcare providers or agencies if the user so authorizes. “We see this as a way to help healthcare providers communicate with the patient,” Lapchik says.

PPEs would similarly be tagged at the point of manufacture, or by a distributor. Typically, Lapchik says, the tags are expected to be scanned twice: once at the point at which the tag is applied, and again when the product is received or used. The company built the solution this summer and is now in discussions with a large vaccine distributor to provide the system for managing vaccines being shipped to retailers or hospitals.

Governments, including state offices, are also in discussions with SUKU about the solution. If a government opts to launch the system, it could provide supplier information to Smartrac, which would then print and encode tags specific for that supplier and forward them on. “The tags then provide full visibility and transparency of shipping,” Lapchik says, when the products leave the manufacturing or distribution site. “When you apply all that data to an immutable, unified single source of truth, you are ensuring no one is corrupting the chain or making changes.”

The solution is intended to be simple to apply, Lapchik reports, since the blockchain-based software requires no integration, and NFC-enabled phones can be used to capture tag data. “We have a very simple answer with robust technology,” Lapchik says. “We want to show the value very quickly and show that the problem can be solved simply.” In the meantime, he adds, Smartrac has strategically aligned its production capacity and safety stock to ensure the inlays can be available at high volume, wherever they are required. “Regionally and globally, we can provide what is needed.”