Blockchain backend extends digital product passport capabilities

Digital product passport module offers deep consumer engagement, including features to support the circular economy and embed buyer feedback.
19 April 2023

Tech stack: blockchain powered digital product passport solutions could enhance supply chain transparency. Image credit: Shutterstock Generate.

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If you think that having a digital product passport to promote supply chain transparency sounds like a great idea, you’d be in good company. The EU published its Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) Proposal in March 2022. And a key pillar of the proposal is the creation of a digital product passport, which can be used to champion device and materials sustainability across value chains such as electronics, batteries, and textiles.

Improvements in product labeling driven by advances in technology put valuable information in the hands of consumers. Details such as product durability and reliability, reusability, upgradability, and reparability will enable stakeholders across supply chains to make much more informed purchasing decisions. And highlighting the prospects for maintenance and refurbishment, the presence of substances of concern, details on energy and resource efficiency, as well as the amount of recycled content, could save on resources and reduce landfill.

ESPR sets its sights on a wide range of goods. However, there are a few exceptions in the EU proposal, including food. But the good news for consumers is that solutions such as UNISOT’s digital passport module have already filled those gaps, helping suppliers and distributors to demonstrate food provenance and protect shoppers from food fraud.

Timestamped product information

Using a blockchain-powered digital product passport, the UNISOT platform can record data that stakeholders choose to share across entire product journeys. And consumers can then check those details to track and trace the production of goods available on the market.

In the past, supply chains have relied on point-to-point systems. But with companies changing suppliers much more frequently than in the past and serving new customers all of the time, that approach can’t keep up. “Point-to-point software can’t be built fast enough,” Stephan Nilsson – founder and CEO of UNISOT told TechHQ.

Nilsson initially thought about using a central database, but company data is too valuable to firms, and organizations are understandably cautious about sharing sensitive business information. Blockchain had been tried by others in the past, but used private implementations of decentralized databases, which had issues. His breakthrough was demonstrating that a public blockchain could be used together with common enterprise software – for example, to generate an SAP sales order and work with different information types.

Being able to timestamp business operations and store those events on a tamper-proof digital ledger opens the door to recording each step in a product’s journey. IoT devices can be included to record processing and transportation data. In fact, Nilsson explains that it’s possible to monetize those product details using blockchain, putting a price on a temperature or a weight, to create an incentive for nodes to exchange information with each other. “It gives producers a new tool to prove the quality of their products to consumers,” he explains. “We are selling a sustainability and traceability solution as a service.”

The more stakeholders that participate, the better. But the system can also use machine learning tools to fill in some of the gaps and to detect anomalies. For example, to determine how values compare with historical data. Suppliers and producers decide how much information that they wish to share, sign those details using a private key, and then the data becomes part of the digital product passport.

ERP plug-in

Available as an ERP plug-in, customers don’t have to change their own backend systems to benefit. And what’s more, the advantages of contributing to a digital product passport extend beyond the scope of the EU proposal. For example, customers can use the system to give feedback to suppliers.

UNISOT started out in the food and beverage sector. And today, the digital product passport provider has clients in construction, agriculture, and even in the art world, where the technology is used to verify paintings and sculptures. The fine-grained details that can be logged help to speed up audits and means that firms don’t necessarily have to recall all products – for example, if a quality issue occurs – just those that have been traced to a particular batch of materials or processing window.

Digital product passports powered by blockchain technology can help supply chains in a variety of ways. For example, they can encourage the circular economy by enabling consumers to get reimbursed when returning materials to a recycling point. They can also make it straightforward for users to re-order products online. And firms can share much richer producer stories with their customers to develop their brands and engage more deeply with users.

Provenance and federated learning

Today, consumers want to know more about where their goods come from. And digital product passport solutions link materials supply and manufacturing histories to items in ways that weren’t possible before. Consumers have the potential to check the authenticity of individual items – for example, to verify whether foodstuffs are organic or non-gmo based on time-stamped, digital product histories.

Systems also have the potential to enable federated learning by validating machine learning on the edge. It’s an exciting space and companies like UNISOT are pathfinding digital product passport solutions that will only become more commonplace as regulatory wheels turn.