IBM and Maersk launch blockchain to reduce shipping time and costs


Cargo shipping giant Maersk and IBM today announced TradeLens, a technology that applies blockchain to the global supply chain.

TradeLens takes advantage of blockchain, the decentralized public ledger behind such tech as cryptocurrency — to enable global trade to be more efficient and secure. More than 94 companies and organizations are supporting the project in the name of transparency, information sharing, and innovation.

Those 94 organizations are actively involved in or have agreed to participate in the TradeLens platform built on open standards as early adopters.

The participants are made up of more than 20 port and terminal operators, including PSA Singapore, International Container Terminal Services Inc, Patrick Terminals, Modern Terminals in Hong Kong, Port of Halifax, Port of Rotterdam, Port of Bilbao, PortConnect, PortBase, terminal operators Holt Logistics at the Port of Philadelphia, and global APM Terminals’ network. That group covers 234 marine ports.

Pacific International Lines (PIL) has joined Maersk Line and Hamburg Süd as global container carriers participating in the solution.

Customs authorities in the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Australia, and Peru are participating, along with customs brokers Ransa and Güler & Dinamik.

Cargo owners participating include Torre Blanca / Camposol and Umit Bisiklet. And participating freight forwarders include transportation and logistics companies such as Agility, CEVA Logistics, DAMCO, Kotahi, PLH Trucking Company, Ancotrans, and Shipco.

TradeLens uses IBM blockchain technology as the foundation for digital supply chains, empowering multiple trading partners to collaborate by establishing a single shared view of a transaction without compromising details, privacy, or confidentiality.

Shippers, shipping lines, freight forwarders, port and terminal operators, and inland transportation and customs authorities can interact more efficiently with real-time access to shipping data and shipping documents, including internet of things and sensor data ranging from temperature control to container weight.

“We believe blockchain can play an important role in digitizing global shipping, an area of the global economy that moves $4 trillion of goods every year,” said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of IBM‘s global industries, solutions and blockchain, in a statement. “However, success with the technology rests on a single factor — bringing the entire ecosystem together around a common approach that benefits all participants equally.”

Using blockchain smart contracts, TradeLens lets multiple parties engage in international trade. The trade document module, released under a beta program and called ClearWay, enables importers and exporters; customs brokers; trusted third parties, such as customs officials; other government agencies; and nonprofit groups to collaborate in cross-organizational business processes and information exchanges, all backed by a secure, non-repudiable audit trail.

During a 12-month trial, Maersk and IBM worked with dozens of ecosystem partners to identify opportunities to prevent delays caused by documentation errors, information gaps, and other impediments.

In one example, TradeLens reduced by 40 percent the transit time of a shipment of packaging materials to a production line in the United States. That avoided thousands of dollars in cost. Through better visibility and more efficient means of communicating, some supply chain participants estimate they could reduce the steps taken to answer basic operational questions such as “Where is my container” from 10 steps and five people to, with TradeLens, one step and one person.

More than 154 million shipping events have been captured on the platform, including data such as arrival times of vessels and container “gate-in,” and documents such as customs releases, commercial invoices, and bills of lading. This data is growing at a rate of close to a million events per day.

“TradeLens uses blockchain technology to create an industry standard for the secure digitization and transmission of supply chain documents around the world,” said Modern Terminals CEO Peter Levesque, in a statement. “This initiative will generate tremendous savings for our industry over time while enhancing global supply chain security. Modern Terminals is pleased to participate as a Network Member in testing this exciting shipping industry innovation.”

The TradeLens solution is available today through the Early Adopter Program. TradeLens is expected to be fully commercially available by the end of this year. Maersk employs 76,000 people.