Overview

Applying the Blockchain in the Supply Chain Domain – Building a Blockchain-enabled Supply Chain Platform [blockcentric #3]

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Our article series “blockcentric” discusses Blockchain-related technology, projects, organization and business concerns. It contains knowledge and findings from our work but also news from the area.Blockcentric Logo

We are looking forward to your feedback on the column and exciting discussions about your use cases.


In previous posts we gave an overview of the challenges of supply chains and an overview of a blockchain-enabled supply chain platform. Now we would like to go forward and show you a snapshot of some development milestones.

 

Bringing ownership certificates to life

One of the core ideas was to augment physical assets with digital mirror assets. We needed to make the assets on the one hand identifiable (tamper-resistant) and  on the other hand  trackable in the blockchain by setting up digital ownership certificates in the blockchain.

The core process steps of the initial system are:

  • Generating a unique asset ID which is the link to the ‘mirror asset’
  • Retrieving the asset types, identifying the type of product that we want to track
  • Applying the asset ID permanently to the asset, by using a trusted device
  • Transferring the ownership certificate of the asset to the manufacturer’s wallet
  • Transferring the ownership certificate to the initial owner in the Asset Management System at the moment of sale

Each step entails, unique challenges, some of which we will have a closer look at later on. Here you see an overview of the process:

Initial thoughts and architecture

What we intended in the beginning was to have a quick proof of concept that is able to translate into a scalable platform. We have decided to use ethereum since we would like the system to become a widespread solution. Additionally the maturity as well as the capabilities of the ethereum smart contracts seemed to be right for our demands. Furthermore, we wanted to have a haptic case and example and decided to search for industry production systems that we could use to transform it into trusted devices. After some research and some calls, http://www.couth-butzbach.de/ provided us with a mobile needle marker system that is also used in mass production processes. A software component will be described in a separate blog post.

The system consists of the industrial marking system that is remote-controlled by our piggy-back device that runs a blockchain node. The device itself is a Raspberry Pi 3b with a touch display and a lean electron app as user interface. The communication protocol of the specific industrial marking device is proprietary. On the other hand, there is the asset management portal which is a web application and DAPP components. Both sides are connected to the blockchain.

Generating a unique asset ID

The starting point is the interface of the marker and the asset to mark. After booting, the device connects automatically and starts the electron interface.

The operator confirms the generation of the ID. This can be performed either on the device or in the blockchain in order to avoidimprobable collision. In the latter case it is advisable to implement some kind of three-phase commit protocol in order to confirm the requested ID after application to the asset.

Retrieving the asset type

After having loaded an ID to apply, the device shows the available assets for this production line. It can be a pre-configured selection, fixed options or free text.

Applying the asset ID

Now everything is ready to apply the ID either by pushing the create digital asset & engrave button or by pulling the trigger of the marker.

The marking process starts and is finished in seconds (click on the image to start the gif animation)

Different types of markings can be applied by the trusted device: logos, QR codes, data matrices, alpha numeric serial numbers, etc.

Transferring the asset to the manufacturer’s wallet

At this time the asset is booked to the wallet of the manufacturer that is tied to the trusted device of the marker and the asset immediately shows up (event based) in the asset management system.

Sending the asset the the new owner

Now the manufacturer is able to pass on the asset to the new owner by applying his wallet ID or, in a later version, his handle or real name.

It is possible to have different views of the same wallet. Created assets, received assets, asset details.

Practice test of the solution and conclusion

In summary, the concept does work successfully, but there are still uncertainties. In the meantime we have been working on enhancing usability and on covering more and more aspects of the full supply chain platform. There are known aspects to work on and adjustments to full production environments remain to be made. We are looking forward to completing our first practice tests for the solution soon.

If you are interested in this topic, please let us know. We would like to hear your comments and amendments. Feel free to drop me a few lines: kai.herings@codecentric.de and follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/kherings

Previously published blockcentric posts

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