IBM and transport and logistics outfit Maersk have unveiled a blockchain-based cross-border supply chain programme to manage and track the paper trail of tens of millions of shipping containers across the world.
Based on the Hyperledger Fabric, the initiative will see IBM and Maersk work with a network of shippers, freight forwarders, ocean carriers, ports and customs authorities in a bid to save the industry billion of dollars in costs from manual interventions.
The partners say the digitised process is designed to help reduce fraud and errors, reduce the time products spend in the transit and shipping process, improve inventory management and ultimately reduce waste and cost. Maersk found in 2014 that just a simple shipment of refrigerated goods from East Africa to Europe can go through nearly 30 people and organisations, including more than 200 different interactions and communications among them.
The costs associated with trade documentation processing and administration are estimated to be up to one-fifth the actual physical transportation costs. A single vessel can carry thousands of shipments, and on top of the costs to move the paperwork, the documentation to support it can be delayed, lost or misplaced, leading to further complications.
The system, which connects all participants to a shipment on a permissioned blockchain, has already been tested in the transportation of goods from Schneider Electric on a Maersk Line container vessel from the Port of Rotterdam to the Port of Newark in a pilot under an EU research project. The international shipment of flowers to Royal FloraHolland from Kenya, Mandarin oranges from California, and pineapples from Colombia were also used to validate the service for shipments coming into the Port of Rotterdam.
Ibrahim Gokcen, chief digital officer, Maersk, says: “The projects we are doing with IBM aim at exploring a disruptive technology such as blockchain to solve real customer problems and create new innovative business models for the entire industry. We expect the solutions we are working on will not only reduce the cost of goods for consumers, but also make global trade more accessible to a much larger number of players from both emerging and developed countries.”