Blockchain for Supply Chain

In the last few years I have watched television commercials that promise that produce will be better accounted for and even fresher because blockchain technologies can be used to help manage the supply chain.

In reality, blockchain will probably take longer to adopt than did bar code technologies. Barcodes are so common that we like to assume that they were invented and put into practice all at once.

Barcodes have patented as early as 1951 when Woodland and Silver patented a barcode system based on Morse Code. There are probably dozens of patents older than 1951. The UPC barcode was invented in 1973, and is the system that most retailing employs.

The barcode scanner was a small part of the system required. Computers that could be updated with new codes every night needed to be placed in every store. Since the internet was invented in the late 1980’s the barcode that was invented in 1973 was of little use.

In the 1990’s, store computers could start using modems to get UPC database updates from corporate computers. Technologies such as uucp and RS-232 connected in store computers to the internet to distribute a usable database of UPC codes.

Meanwhile, corporate retail giants such as Kroger, Sears Roebuck and Walmart were working on a database of UPC codes, the items to which they correspond, acceptable ranges of sale prices, supply chain information, cost information size and family information, etc.

Simultaneously the bar code scanning laser providers were improving the ability of the scanner to scan a code on produce, round cans and square boxes and at all angles. Thus in the mid to late 1990’s that pieces had come together for widespread adoption of bar codes in retail sales.

So if we look at the shorter time interval of 1973 to 1995 the bar code system for retail price scanning and inventory control took 22 years to implement.

If blockchain technologies can be used to deliver a fresher tomato, be prepared to wait a few decades.

Why Blockchain might mature faster

When told that blockchain may be ready to help get you a fresher salad in a few decades, some people are shocked. Indeed, there may be some groundwork laid that will speed the adoption of supply chain blockchain implementation.

The Internet

Face it, no supply chain system can evolve without verification along the way. The internet is already invented, and allows shipments all over the supply chain to have their existence and location verified at a defined date and time.

5G 4G and 3G

Since every truck load of radishes is probably never near an Ethernet port, the use of Wifi and cellular data is a requirement to update supply chain shipment units of radishes.

Massive cycles of spare computing power

Not so much on this front. It seems every spare cycle of computing power is already tied up computing the next bitcoin block. So we have yet to see how the supply chain block for carrots will be maintained.