We keep hearing about something called blockchain being about to change the freight world, but many are asking, what’s blockchain all about? A speaker at the Global Heavy Vehicle Summit may have the answer.
The freight industry has seen different technologies radically change and develop how freight is moved over the years. As freight has been moved faster, more efficiently and more accurately, the global economy has benefitted and prospered.
Now, another new technology is being identified as the new disrupter, as the technology that is going to lead transport into a radically new world, where digital data is king. This world is built on one major building block, blockchains. We’ve all heard about them, but do we understand them? Does anyone understand them?
In the run-up to the MEGATRANS 2018 event in Melbourne, the Australian Road Transport Suppliers Association organised a Global Heavy Vehicle Leaders Summit at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. The event saw a number of experts from around the world come along and share their knowledge.
One of the first things to point out is blockchain is not bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency. It’s about a transaction or an interaction between two parties. who may not trust each other. It also involves encryption of data which can be accessed by those with public or private keys. The blockchain functions like a locked box with a public key you can put something into it but you can’t take anything out, or change anything already in there. Someone with a private key can take something out.
Described as a distributed network, the blockchain has no single actor or controller. The data within the blockchain belongs to no-one but the block chain itself. It is described as being immutable data, preserved in the blockchain forever.
It is this end-to-end visibility which is attractive to the freight industry, with any party to the chain able to see trustworthy data about the provenance of the cargo and where and when it was in any particular location, from source to final destination. This has implications for everyone throughout the supply chain.
Another area where blockchain may get a start is in terms of biosecurity in the food and animal transport space, ensuring food arrives in the proper condition with trustworthy data on travel time, conditions at the point of loading and so on.
There is also the area of invoice payment where detailed data about the consignment, who is carrying it, where it has been and when it arrives at the delivery point. In a smart contract within the blockchain, geo-fencing in a telematics system can tell when a shipment arrives and allows for automatic payment on arrival.
A US company is developing a product called blockcerts ,which is a way to provide digital verification of your education and experience. All of your data could be encrypted into a blockchain and if you applied for a job, there would be no guesswork about your background on the part of the prospective employer.
There is also a company in Victoria, currently exporting beef to China. The pack in the supermarket in China has a QR code on it which the customer can scan with their phone and it will bring up a full history of the beef. The data includes the part of the cow, the abattoir, what the cow was fed, where it was stored, what truck it was carried on. This gives the end-user full transparency and enhances trust in product safety.
Analysis of shipping containers has found the movement of one container can touch 30 organisations, 200 different communications, eight potential bottlenecks any one of which can cause a hefty delay. This has led to the building of a blockchain to contain all of the information, everyone involved needs to move the container. This is expected to shave a considerable number of days taken, from origin to destination.