Keeping Highways Safe with RFID and Blockchain

Globalization has made cross-border shipping commonplace. A truck could leave Munich today, reach Istanbul overnight, and be back at the German border tomorrow. Truck tires are covering distances of thousands of kilometers per week. Due to wear, treads must be renewed on a regular basis.

GS1 is a neutral, not-for-profit organization that develops and maintains the most widely used global standards for efficient business communication. The organization came together with SAP Co-Innovation Lab on a project to digitalize tire retread activities to improve safety on the road. The failure of overused tires can cause street accidents. There are exact product homologations and regulations for the use and renewal of truck tires.

Supported by SAP Co-Innovation Lab, GS1 developed a solution that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) and blockchain to identify overused truck tires and approve tire repair.

How can manufacturers and workshops make sure the tires being sent for repair are still within the conditions of the warranty? “They can’t – at least not to 100 percent,” said Joey Bronner, senior software development engineer from SAP Co-Innovation Lab. “That is why, together with GS1, we created the TWAREG project: we wanted to develop a tool that provides warrantors with trusted information on an individual tire’s history.”

Blockchain for Tire Safety

Tire treads can be renewed numerous times. In fact, renewals are welcome as the production of new tires causes much more harm to the environment than retreading does. Tracking the actual number of retreads on a particular tire, however, is a challenge. Many different parties have stakes in the product and the geographical spread of usage across different regions has enlarged the ecosystem. The spread makes it hard for stakeholders to monitor the history of a specific tire.

“Regulations are more strictly observed in some geographical regions than others” said Peter Snowdon from SAP Co-Innovation Lab. “It’s not unheard of that tires that have gone out of usage in one country are being sent elsewhere and then taken back on the road of the country from which they originally had been banned. When the tire fails, how are the repairmen supposed to know? You cannot judge by just looking at the tire how many times the treads have undergone renewal.”

It is difficult for manufacturers to provide warranties under such circumstances. Only technology can provide dependable knowledge of a tire’s actual status. Using blockchain technology, the joint tire-safety project, TWAREG, resulted in the development of a tool for tire life cycle management that includes tire warranty, retread guidance, and tracking.

“Each tire is equipped with an RFID device that uniquely identifies the tire, while the blockchain records the tire mileage and service activities” explained Nicolas Pauvre, a traceability project manager from GS1. “The carrier or repairer can scan the RFID tag and read the individual tire’s complete history of usage in the blockchain. After that, renewals and repair can be applied for. Information about each singular repair or retread is stored in the blockchain. Due to the decentralized nature of the blockchain technology, it is impossible for one member of the chain to manipulate the information stored there.”

GS1 Helps Bring Innovative Technologies to the Ecosystem

GS1 is represented in 150 countries and defines standards for all relevant B2B and B2C products and their identifications by allotting them an International Article Number. GS1 is an important stakeholder to SAP as it defines many of the global standards SAP software helps customers adhere to.

“For us, TWAREG demonstrates the power of combining innovative technologies, such as blockchain and RFID, with GS1 global standards,” remarked Pauvre. “The tool makes ‘invisible technologies’ such as blockchain tangible for our customers. Thanks to our collaboration with SAP Co-Innovation Lab, companies benefit from key lessons learned related to the implementation of those technologies. It’s a source inspiration for companies to build their own roadmap and project themselves into the future.”

The idea for a joint project arose when GS1 visited SAP in Paris. Inspired by other lab projects, they invited the SAP Co-Innovation Lab experts to kick off TWAREG.

SAP Co-Innovation Lab helps potential SAP partners ramp up their SAP solution skills around an innovative and value-adding hybrid use case and provides a legal framework to prototype it together. Potential partners can test what working with SAP is like.

“The only condition to work with the SAP Co-Innovation Lab is to be interested in SAP and open for collaboration,” said Miliau Pape, head of SAP Co-Innovation Lab in North Europe.

GS1 built the tire life cycle management prototype with support from SAP Co-Innovation Lab. This mix of knowledge-transfer and live demonstrations enabled GS1 developers to gain new skills and inspired industry players.

“The mix of expertise and a strong customer-driven approach at SAP Co-Innovation Lab is a key assets in our partnership and results in a successful co-innovation work. There was a pleasant atmosphere of openness and trust among the teams,” remarked Pauvre.

Co-Innovation for Customer Satisfaction and Safety

“We have been promoting TWAREG in major events such as supply chain events, Vivatech, GS1 Global Forum, and others to reach new business opportunities and engage innovative projects with customers,” said Pauvre. “The feedback on the tool has been very positive. Professionals from various sectors such as automotive, rail, transport, and logistics love the concrete use case demonstrated by TWAREG.”

“What makes this project special is that GS1 is technically not an SAP partner, nor are they a customer of ours,” said Pape. “Working with GS1 is particularly attractive to us because of the connection to all parties involved in the life cycle of a tire. Together, we can incorporate the future customers’ feedback and turn the prototype into a sophisticated product that addresses their needs and covers the whole life cycle of a product.”

Infographic: GS1 and SAP Co-Innovation Lab
Click to enlarge