It’s no secret that the global supply chain has faced its fair share of challenges over the past few years. From the COVID-19 pandemic to labor shortages, economic instability, and geopolitical complications, organizations across industries continue to encounter roadblocks and it remains unclear as to when supply chains will fully recover. As a result, business leaders are being forced to rethink their approach to the supply chain and look to ways they can further leverage technology to enhance their operations.
One such area of focus is deploying innovative technologies around the traceability of goods. Being able to follow and track the conditions of goods intended for mass distribution has never been more critical as it allows different stakeholders to monitor the supply chains’ reliability and pivot accordingly. Yet, this process remains a major undertaking for organizations and many challenges exist. Traceability is especially vital for perishable items, whose ripeness and freshness are directly affected by too many transactions, violent transport or poorly conditioned storage. While there are several existing technologies that are used to identify an item at any given time and track its position – such as NFC (Near Field Communication) or RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips – they continue to fall short in key areas.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these supply chain challenges organizations currently face when it comes to traceability, and how digital olfaction can help.
Current traceability challenges
There are several missing elements to these existing traceability technologies that leave organizations at a major disadvantage when it comes to optimizing their supply chain activity:
- Lack of end-to-end visibility: Current tracking devices are unable to provide enough detail into the full history of an item’s supply chain journey. They can capture data around the completion of the route, and before the delivery of an item to the end user, but do not offer any insights into when, where and under what conditions products may have been damaged based on the data collected.
- Security threats: Existing methods and technology are also unable to guarantee that the measured data has not been altered during the supply chain journey, either intentionally or unintentionally. While a comparison of data from different sensors can, in principle, indicate the point at which the product may have been damaged, there is still a possibility that a third party may have deleted or falsified this data. Therefore, the data is not always verifiable.
- Insensitivity to perishable items: When it comes to precise measurements and tracking the state of a perishable item over time, current technologies also fall short. The ripening of a perishable item, such as a fruit or vegetable, is likely to vary rapidly depending on its environmental conditions, which cannot be reliably measured by current sensor technology. The over-ripening of one asset can also cause the entire cargo to quickly spoil, so being alerted early is critical to preserving more of the shipment.
How integrating digital olfaction into the blockchain can help
Luckily, digital olfaction holds the key to many of these challenges. Using biosensors, advanced optics and machine learning to mimic the human sense of smell, digital olfaction technology collects odor data from products and can detect any change in the olfactory signature of an item, perishable or not. This can help organizations assess the quality of the product throughout the entirety of its supply chain journey, and identify any alterations that may indicate a different geographical origin or counterfeit or damaged item. This enhanced traceability ultimately enables businesses to better optimize their supply chain operations while maintaining product consistency.
Taking it one step further to address security concerns, when digital olfaction technology is integrated with an organization’s data processing system or blockchain, the information is stored and transmitted with enhanced security through a consensus process within a network formed by several stakeholders in a particular supply chain. The use of a blockchain also preserves the reliability of the olfactory signature measurements carried out during a supply chain process, making it possible to prevent more data tampering attempts. At the end of the day, the processing of olfactory signature data within a blockchain provides reliable measurements made within a given supply chain, helping enhance the overall traceability of goods.
One company, Wholechain, is already offering this type of capability — enabling businesses to assess attributes of goods and integrate the data into a blockchain — but it has yet to be done with odor signatures. At Aryballe, we are excited to be working toward integrating digital odor data, sourced from the traceability of goods, into the blockchain. The concept would use a combination of our NeOse Advance signature, time stamping, GPS location, NeOse Advance S/N, Sensor S/N and latest calibration to assess the origin and olfactory attributes of a given good and store this into a blockchain for more accurate and secure traceability.