Business School partners with Jaguar Land Rover's world-first digital supply chain trial to trace leather
Full transparency within a sustainable leather supply chain
The visibility and transparency of supply chains have become prominent themes during the Covid-19 pandemic and since. Being able to trace a product back to its source of origin is a prerequisite for supply chain visibility.
In an industry-leading trial, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) partnered with Circulor, Bridge of Weir Leather Company and Nottingham University Business School. As part of the Innovate UK-funded research, a ‘digital twin’ was created to track the entire leather production process using GPS, biometrics and QR codes.
Automotive leather is a by-product of the meat industry. Experts at Nottingham University Business School carried out a feasibility study that focused on testing and proving specific methods for traceability in the upstream part of this supply chain from Scottish farms through to a leather tannery that supplies automotive leather.
Led by Professor of Operations Management, Bart MacCarthy, the team investigated the potential to extend and scale these solutions to the manufacture and upholstering of car seats and to globally sourced leather supply, which largely comes from South America.
The approach to the project involved mapping and analysis of operational product flows, detailed discussion with participants on existing systems and methods, and extensive secondary data analysis of the industry.
Professor MacCarthy had previously worked on identifying potential supply chains where blockchain-based traceability might be desirable and beneficial. JLR were aware of Nottingham's expertise in supply chain mapping.
Supply chains are managed and traced with enterprise information systems. However, the digital record may be dispersed across multiple organisations with limited access or visibility and such records are not tamper-proof and may not be permanent.
Blockchain, as a distributed ledger technology, potentially allows an unchanging digital record of material flows across a supply chain to be created with time-stamped information recorded on the chain. Many organisations have recently become interested in developing blockchain–based platforms that capture and encrypt an exact tamper-proof record that verifies the origin and authenticity of products.
The Nottingham team were able to identify a level of blockchain-enabled traceability that could be scaled up without significantly affecting existing operations. The success of the project was helped by having key players from the supply chain actively involved, as well a software platform company and Nottingham as key knowledge partner.
Blockchain–based solutions are likely to be most relevant for products and materials where verifiable proof of origin is needed such as those where there are sustainability concerns in the supply chain.
Professor MacCarthy emphasises that "the focus on guarantees of traceability is not going way and blockchain will be an important technology in this regard."
Read more about the blockchain trial in the JLR press release from 13 October.
About Innovate UK
The project is funded by Innovate UK on behalf of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge.
Posted on Tuesday 2nd November 2021