Blockchain: the future of food traceability?

20/04/2018
Shan Zhan, global business manager at ABB’s food and beverage business, looks at how blockchain* can be used to enhance food traceability.

“The Blockchain, can change…well everything.” That was the prediction of Goldman Sachs in 2015. There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about Blockchain, particularly around Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but just as the investment bank giant predicted, the technology is starting to have more wide-reaching impacts on other sectors.

A report from research consultancy Kairos Future describes blockchain as a founding block for the digitalization of society. With multinationals such as IBM and Walmart driving a pilot project using blockchain technology for traceability, the food and beverage industry needs to look at the need for the protection of traceability data.

The United Nations recognizes food security as a key priority, especially in developing countries. While most countries must abide by strict traceability regulations, which are particularly strong in the EU, other regions may not have the same standards or the data may be at risk of fraud.

Food fraud is described by the Food Safety Net Services (FSNS) as the act of purposely altering, misrepresenting, mislabeling, substituting or tampering with any food product at any point along the farm-to-table food supply chain. Since the thirteenth century, laws have existed to protect consumers against harm from this. The first instance recorded of these laws was during the reign of English monarch King John, when England introduced laws against diluting wine with water or packing flour with chalk.

The crime still exists to this day. While malicious contamination intended to damage public health is a significant concern, a bigger problem is the mislabeling of food for financial gain. The biggest areas of risk are bulk commodities such as coffee and tea, composite meat products and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labelled fish. For example, lower-cost types of rice such as long-grain are sometimes mixed with a small amount of higher-priced basmati rice and sold as the latter. By using blockchain technology in their traceability records, food manufacturers can prevent this from happening.

Blockchain is a type of distributed ledger technology that keeps a digital record of all transactions. The records are broadcasted to a peer-to-peer (P2P) network consisting of computers known as nodes. Once a new transaction is verified, it is added as a new block to the blockchain and cannot be altered. And as the authors of Blockchain Revolution explain, “the blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value”.

When records of suppliers and customers are collected manually, to ensure the end manufacturer can trace the entire process, this does not protect the confidential data of suppliers. Blockchain technology anonymizes the data but it is still sufficient to ensure that the supply chain is up to standard.

In the case of mislabeled basmati rice, blockchain technology would prevent food fraud as the amount of each ingredient going into the supply chain cannot be lower than the volume going out. This would flag the product as a fraudulent product.

Not only can it help to monitor food ingredients, it can also monitor the conditions at the production facility. These are often very difficult to verify and, even if records are taken, they can be falsified. A photo or digital file can be taken to record the situation, such as a fish being caught, to show that it complies with the MSC’s regulations on sustainably caught seafood.

The blockchain will then create a secure digital fingerprint for this image that is recorded in the blockchain, known as a hash. The time and location of the photograph will be encrypted as part of this hash, so it cannot be manipulated. The next supplier in the blockchain will then have a key to this hash and will be able to see that their product has met the regulations.

Food and beverage manufacturers can also use blockchain to ensure that conditions at their production facilities are being met, or any other data that needs to be securely transferred along the production line. While we are not yet advanced enough with this technology to implement across all food and beverage supply chains, increased digitalization and being at the forefront of investment into these technologies will help plant managers to prepare their supply chain against the food fraud threat.

* The Wikipedia entry on Blockchain!

@ABBgroupnews #PAuto #Food @FSNSLABS @MSCecolabel
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Quality Managers are the Leaders!

09/10/2017
Jennifer Sillars, Product Marketing Executive for Ideagen tells why quality managers are the leaders that manufacturing needs.

Having previously worked in business intelligence for Ideagen, Jennifer Sillars brings a passion for data driven decision making to the realms of quality, compliance, audit and risk. As Product Marketing Executive at Ideagen, Jennifer’s key objectives are to understand how customers use Ideagen’s software and how the company can better serve them in their GRC challenges.

Jennifer Sillars, – Ideagen

Companies are becoming more aggressive in their financial goals, with cost cutting being the mantra for many years. Indeed, in some organisations, when all the obvious cuts have been made, making the less obvious ones can begin to jeopardise the smooth-running of the business.

In Manufacturing, we see an industry under pressure. An industry trying to do more with less. A more proactive approach is needed now to break out of this cycle of simply fulfilling demand. While it may seem unlikely to some, your Quality Manager or Quality Director, is in the perfect position to guide this strategy.

Reason One – A focus that is principled and positive
Quality leaders are focused on…quality. By this I mean customer satisfaction and reputation building are inherent in their goals. ‘Quality’ often means meeting the customer requirements or meeting safety objectives. They are high integrity individuals who make analytical decisions based on fact and with no hidden motive. It is this type of input that is needed when difficult choices have to be taken.

John Burrows – HepcoMotion

HepcoMotion, a manufacturer of linear motion systems and automation components, is an example of a company who lead with quality. As HepcoMotion manufacture everything in-house, no responsibility for quality can be delegated away. John Burrows, Group Quality Manager, defines his job as “ensuring that our customers get the best possible products.” In industries striving for blocked out order books filled with repeat business, the Quality department’s smooth operation can make this a reality.

Quality departments are often unfairly profiled as the inspector who comes in looking for problems at the end of a project. The truth behind this is that quality leaders, like John Burrows, believe the company can achieve greatness. So, if something goes wrong, there is a process or control that needs to be fixed. John is trusted at an operational level as someone to turn to when an issue is found. Leading from the front like this allows issues to be addressed earlier in the manufacturing process, instead of hidden from the inspector.

Reason Two – Business intelligence in non-conformances
They understand how the business runs. They know the small details, the daily struggles as well as the big picture strategic goals. They work beyond silos to understand the internal processes that take requirements and turn them in to commercial products. This gives Quality Managers a deep understanding of where things can, and do, go wrong. They see where the trends are that provide opportunities for improvement. Quality leaders track non-conformances and the cost of these issues.

“The ability to cost Corrective Action Preventative Action (CAPA’s) allows me to highlight areas that require attention,” John continues: “where costs have been accrued from a variety of different reasons (work in progress, customer issues, final inspection issues for example). This gives us a much better picture of particular products that may require different processes or additional inspections. We can easily add costs of re-work, extra inspections etc. to an issue and so can get an accurate picture of what it has cost the business.”

This is the kind of data-driven decision making that all companies are striving for. Executives often overlook the Quality department as a partner in business intelligence. HepcoMotion have made great efforts to improve reporting and analysis, keeping in mind the strategic needs of the company.

Reason Three – A stabilising force
In many companies, each location operates within its own rules and business constraints with little sharing of best practices. Each location focuses on optimisation. In itself a worthwhile activity that can have significant cost saving benefits, however at the public level it may not be enough to make an impact.

In a competitive market customers put a premium on suppliers that they can rely on. Reliability and repeatability are fundamental goals within the quality leader’s principled and positive focus. It is part of “ensuring that our customers get the best possible products”, as John says. When every customer knows they will get exactly what they need, orders grow. The wider market notices and the effects are transformative.

When sub-contracting part of the manufacture to suppliers, a part of the burden of reliability is taken. This is as long as you have chosen wisely, set the requirements and been realistic with lead times. The situation is different where you are the sole provider. This is the position that HepcoMotion is in as they do all their manufacturing in-house.

In recent years John’s day to day focus has shifted as HepcoMotion adapt to deal with demand. Downtime is minimal and many of their machines run 24/7. Their order books are full; their focus on quality is undoubtedly a contributing factor. Customers expect the “HepcoMotion” standard, not the standard of a particular site. John Burrows understands that it takes more than a written policy to ensure success. For that reason, John spends increasing amounts of time at different manufacturing sites engaging people and establishing a true Group-wide approach to quality.

Because when the reputation for quality and reliability is built, the impact of failing to meet a customer’s expectation in a single instance can be devastating.

It is for these reasons that Quality Managers are the leaders that manufacturing needs.

@Ideagen_Plc #PAuto @HepcoMotion