Product Authenticity And Traceability using NFC (RFID) and Blockchain
(Still editing, stay tuned.) Over the past few years, I have been asked a few times to talk about how to use blockchain for product authenticity and traceability. So rather than repeating it many times, I am finally ready to share my notes here. Not exactly the full deck and presentation which I usually give, but the high level design and interesting points to consider. Just as the many other articles I share on Medium, I write in notes form and I will come back to edit it every now and then. Leave me with your questions, comments or feedback below.
Product authenticity and traceability are increasingly important concerns for consumers, businesses, and regulators alike. NFC (RFID) and blockchain technologies can help address these challenges by providing a secure and transparent way to track products throughout the supply chain.
What is product authenticity?
Product authenticity refers to the assurance that a product is genuine and not counterfeit or altered in any way. Authenticity is important because it affects product quality, safety, and consumer trust. Counterfeit products can cause harm to consumers and damage the reputation of legitimate businesses.
What is traceability?
Traceability refers to the ability to track a product’s journey from production to consumption. Traceability is important because it enables businesses to identify and address issues such as quality control, supply chain disruptions, and product recalls. It also helps to build trust with consumers who want to know where their products come from and how they were produced.
How do NFC (RFID) and blockchain technologies work together to enhance product authenticity and traceability?
NFC (RFID) technology can be used to track products at every stage of the supply chain, from production to distribution and retail. Each product is tagged with an NFC (RFID) chip that stores information such as the product’s origin, manufacturing date, and destination. This information can be accessed and updated in real-time using NFC (RFID) readers and mobile devices.
Blockchain technology provides a secure and transparent way to record and share this information. Each transaction in the supply chain is recorded as a block on the blockchain, creating an immutable record of the product’s journey. This record can be accessed by anyone with permission, providing transparency and accountability throughout the supply chain.
What are the benefits of using NFC (RFID) and blockchain for product authenticity and traceability?
Using NFC (RFID) and blockchain technologies can provide several benefits for businesses and consumers. These include:
- Improved supply chain transparency and visibility
- Enhanced product quality and safety
- Reduced risk of counterfeit products
- Faster and more efficient recall management
- Increased consumer trust and confidence
Some real-world examples of NFC (RFID) and blockchain being used for product authenticity and traceability
There are several examples of businesses using NFC (RFID) and blockchain technologies to enhance product authenticity and traceability. For example:
- Carrefour, a French supermarket chain, has implemented a blockchain-based system to track the origin and quality of its products, including chicken, eggs, and tomatoes.
- Walmart, a US-based retailer, has implemented a blockchain-based system to track the origin of pork in China, improving food safety and quality control.
- Provenance, a UK-based startup, is using blockchain to provide transparency and traceability for products such as coffee and fish, enabling consumers to verify the origin and sustainability of the products they purchase.
Key advantages of using blockchain technology for authenticity and traceability in supply chain management
1. Increased Transparency: Blockchain technology provides a transparent and tamper-proof record of every transaction that occurs in the supply chain. This allows all parties involved to view the same information, reducing the potential for mistakes and miscommunication.
2. Improved Security: Blockchain technology is highly secure due to its decentralized nature, making it difficult for malicious actors to alter or delete information. This provides an added layer of security for sensitive supply chain data, such as product origins and manufacturing processes.
3. Enhanced Efficiency: Blockchain technology can automate many of the manual processes involved in supply chain management, reducing the time and resources required to track and verify products. This can lead to faster and more efficient supply chain operations.
4. Better Quality Control: By providing a transparent and tamper-proof record of every transaction, blockchain technology can help identify and address quality control issues more quickly and effectively. This can lead to improved product quality and safety.
5. Increased Trust: By providing a transparent and secure record of every transaction, blockchain technology can help build trust between supply chain partners and consumers. This can lead to increased confidence in product authenticity and traceability, which can be a key differentiator in highly competitive markets.
Why blockchain? And how to choose the right chain?
Let’s start with the easy point. Why blockchain?
Because it is an immutable ledger. So the data you write on it “can’t”* be changed.
It provides a secure, transparent, and tamper-proof way to record and share data across multiple parties.
The tricky part is about what kind of blockchain do you choose to use. Commonly people refer to blockchain choices between Public, Private or Permissioned. But that’s not very accurate, as you can have a public (fully transparent) permissioned blockchain too. Here are the criteria I use in designing these solutions:
- Public or Private — In terms of transparency of the blockchain content to the world.
- Ordering Service or Probabilistic Consensus — Do you really need all nodes in the network to get to a consensus just to order the items in the blockchain.
- Gas or Low/No Gas — Transaction fees. Used to be simple, if you wanted no gas, you had to host your own privately. But with Polygon and other very very low gas chains, there are more options.
- Self hosted or BaaS — You can either run your own network or node, or to use Blockchain-as-a-Service, you can even consider the big public chains as BaaS paid with gas fees. Even with public chains, it is common to run your own node anyway for quicker local processing.
Some say that blockchain is just a very slow and inefficient database. (Not going to debate on this point.) But similar to choosing a database, it is very important to get it right. Of course you can still change it later, but it should be one of the least frequently changed part of your wider solution. You need to carefully balance between scale/performance, cost and control.
As a general reminder, no matter which one you choose, make sure you don’t store any PII on it. All blockchain solutions should aim at bare minimal information stored on chain.
* Just because many blockchains have not been hacked, doesn’t mean it will never be. It’s software afterall. If the stake is high enough, there are known ways to attack or take over certain public blockchain networks.
What are they using now for Authenticity and Traceability?
- RFID (and BLE)
Logistics industry widely deploy RFID for cargo and containers tracking
Commonly used at shops for stock management and checkouts
- QR Code
(Hologram, Tamper Proof (Masked) Labels with QR codes)
A modern replacement to Barcode for better user interactions and low level of authenticity verification. Can be read by most phones with standard camera feature.
For high value items: luxury goods, electronics, wine. Interactive chip for better security. Require NFC reader feature, according to statista.com, 90% are NFC-enabled handsets since 2020.
Other advanced features of NFC labels
- Consumption Detection (Tamper-Proof)
Store usage state of NFC, “has the item been opened?”
- Physical Unclonable Function (PUF)
Hardware level protection, down to the silicon level uniqueness
- Dual Chip RFID/NFC
Better range, dual antenna, can be read by mobile phone as well as longer range RFID readers
A shorter range version of Dual Chip RFID/NFC, single antenna, can be read by mobile phone as well as medium range readers up to 1.5 metres. Which is suitable for autonomous checkout / smart store solutions.
Picking the right NFC label type with the right chip is very important to the final solution. Most of the chips have built-in memory space and customisable features which can enhance the security and user experience.
Also, need to consider the defective rate, might be well less than 1%, but if you are deploying it to millions of items, it matters. Also, the risk of annoying any of your customer with false results can have a wider business impact.
Closing notes, and beyond…
- Users are still very unlikely to take out their phone to scan the product with NFC. QR code might not be as “secure”, but users are generally more accustomed to scanning a visible code with camera interface.
- You need to setup the right incentive model to encourage users to scan the items. Loyalty rewards for each scan. Can also be used for other engagements like upsell or restock reminders.
- Some companies embedded NFC into their products, into the fabric or parts, and use it internally to validate authenticity. Luxury handbags or premium pens, etc.
List of NFC Chip Makers
NXP is the market leader, most NFC tags you can buy online in small (<10k units) are likely to be NXP based. For industrial level orders, there are other chip manufacturers too. I added Fudan for cheaper compatible chips and Canon for PUF based tech.
- NXP Semiconductors N.V. — Eindhoven, High Tech Campus 60, 5656 AG Eindhoven +31 40 272 9999
- STMicroelectronics Semiconductor — Chemin du Champ-des-Filles 39, Plan-les-Ouates,1228, Geneva, Switzerland +41 22 929 29 29
- Infineon Technologies — Am Campeon 1–15, 85579 Neubiberg, Germany
- Samsung — 40th floor Samsung Electronics Building, 11, Seocho-daero 74-gil, Seocho District, Seoul, South Korea
- Texas Instruments — Texas Instruments, Inc. Box 660199 12500 TI Blvd., Dallas, TX 75266–0199
- Fudan Micro — RM1901-RM1904, Fudan University Science Park, №11, Guo Tai, Shanghai, P.R.C.200433 +86–21–65655050. [Available on Alibaba]
- Canon PUF NFC — Rm707 Belle International Plaza, 928 Liuzhou Road, Xuhui District,Shanghai,China 200235 +86-21–6428–0648
We will be sharing sample code on GitHub soon. Hyperledger Fabric based solution for NFC tracking. Contact us for more information.
Other useful references:
- Holistic Tracking of Products on the Blockchain Using NFC and Verified Users
- Pervasive, Dynamic Authentication of Physical Items
- The Security Benefits of Unifying NFC and Blockchain
- IBM Food Trust
- IBM Supply chain visibility
As discussed, this article is more of a brain dump of what I have learnt over the years in building blockchain based product authenticity and traceability solution. Please feel free to leave me with your questions, comments and feedback here and I will try to answer questions when I have time. I generally don’t do free consulting or training sessions, but glad to meet new friends over web coffee. :)