For an automobile manufacturer like Renault, certification and compliance are crucial issues. In this area, blockchain can offer a new form of efficiency and responsiveness.
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Traceability in logistics was also one of the first uses of the blockchain. Today, Renault is implementing a more complex use case with the XCEED project (for eXtended Compliance End to End Distributed) aimed at certifying the conformity of vehicle components from design to production thanks to a blockchain.
“It seems we are a little ahead of the choice of this use case. Everyone has thought of the logistics. In our case we are working on the traceability of the conformity certification. It is a use that everyone thinks of, but it remains at the level of the idea for the time being, as it includes more functions in the company than for the single supply chain, ”explains Odile Panciatici, Vice President Groupe Renault Blockchain, at MagIT. “When we talk about certification and compliance, it’s much more cross-sectional, so it’s less trivial than just tracking parts.”
Hyperledger and IBM
The project, which was initiated in mid-2018, was initially the subject of the technological choice, then the partner. The mature open source Hyperledger Fabric technology turned out to be the most suitable, according to Renault, as it had to support the exchange of large amounts of data over a large network. As a reminder: In contrast to public blockchains like Bitcoin, Hyperledger is a so-called “permission” or “private” blockchain. In a private blockchain, there is a governance that is defined upstream by the members who set it up in order to define the acceptance of possible new members.
In a second step, IBM was named as a partner based on its experience with large blockchain projects such as Food Trust, explains Renault.
Testing has started with six OEMs, including Continental, Faurecia and Saint-Gobain. The aim is to welcome all those who find value in the automotive ecosystem on this platform, which is accessible via a web portal.
“The blockchain’s interest is to securely connect directly to its databases. »Odile PanciaticiVP Blockchain, Renault Group
“Today a supplier speaks to several OEMs. For every exchange of information, it has to adapt to a different interface portal, ”explains Odile Panciatici. “Every OEM and every supplier has its own process and we spend our time developing transformation stamps from one process to another. […] Exchange data in the form of Excel or other files. This is not a live data exchange, unlike what blockchain allows. This brings added value to every member. The blockchain’s interest is to securely connect directly to its databases. “
Faurecia – which is part of this project – had started a similar initiative. “When an automobile manufacturer like Renault designs a new vehicle, it creates a large Excel file with 15 to 20,000 lines and associated design phases over three to five years. A supplier or an OEM is involved in each of these lines. The construction is phenomenally complex, “said Grégoire Ferré, Chief Digital Officer at Faurecia, during an Octo-conversation in March 2019, in which LeMagIT took part.
“The blockchain enables us to reduce the complexity associated with product planning, to shorten the interaction time between OEMs and the supplier, and thus to lower construction costs,” Grégoire Ferré already anticipates. This emerging blockchain was powered by Corda de R3.
Volkswagen has decided to build a platform for the exchange of data and applications in the form of PaaS and to connect its factories via the AWS cloud. The German manufacturer has also tested Hyperledger in the past to confirm the origin of the rare materials used to make its electric vehicle batteries.
Foundation stone of an ecosystem
At Renault, the time savings with the blockchain are variable. You are very dependent on suppliers and their traceability system. Some do not necessarily have very sophisticated IS and their traceability method can be more or less manual.
For Renault, however, we would ultimately adhere to processing times that are counted in minutes rather than days.
In addition to this first compliance goal, XCEED’s goal is to make the supply chain easier to operate. For example, it should be possible to identify that a supplier is having problems delivering certain parts so that Renault has time to find an alternative. The automotive group is therefore striving for a global vision from the design to the production of a vehicle.
XCEED definitely seems to be a first stone in the formation of an ecosystem around the maker of Boulogne-Billancourt.
All companies involved in the group
All functions of the Renault group were involved in XCEED: engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, logistics.
A first knot was first used at the Douai plant. The system then made it possible, according to IBM, to certify more than a million documents at a rate of 500 transactions per second.
Odile Panciatici does not want to indicate whether other industrial sites in the group will integrate this trust network. It is clear, however, that Renault initially chose a single cloud (that of IBM) for the sake of simplicity. However, the manufacturer also made sure that the system is agnostic in terms of cloud hosting by checking compatibility with other providers (Renault uses Google Cloud – GCP – and Microsoft Azure in particular).
Multiple nodes in multiple clouds, but still a lot of sensitive details
How many nodes are currently active in the consortium? Hard to say. The project participants do not communicate on this point. However, XCEED nodes have already been installed in “multiple clouds and participant environments,” says Luca Comparini, blockchain manager at IBM France.
“We first added GCP nodes to the network in the IBM Cloud,” adds Mathilde Ffrench, senior software engineer specializing in blockchain at IBM France.
Renault clearly wants to open this blockchain to many other players, regardless of whether they manage a node or not. “A platform like XCEED makes it possible to be a partner and have the opportunity to connect regardless of the position of a supplier in the value chain […] and therefore benefit from a relatively efficient information system, ”enthuses Odile Panciatici. The more partners are represented in the blockchain, the more tangible the advantages of this collective intelligence are of course.
Reassure authorities and customers
The argument is all the more critical given that transparency (for example in the materials used) becomes essential after the fraud in relation to the pollution of diesel engines from certain manufacturers.
Renault has been repeatedly suspected of never using fraudulent software and proposed measures to reduce nitrogen oxide (NoX) emissions from its vehicles in early 2018. The certification provided by the blockchain must help dispel doubts in the minds of the authorities and the customers themselves.
Another key element: a new European regulation proposed in 2016 came into force on September 1, 2020. It is intended to strengthen market surveillance and, above all, requires access to the manufacturers’ software protocols. In the event of non-compliance, the planned economic sanctions are high (up to a fine of 300,000 euros per vehicle).
Against this background, the French government set up the Vehicle and Engine Market Service (SSMVM) with a budget of 5 million euros. This service will perform around 100 tests per year. The XCEED project would also facilitate compliance with this regulation. It is left to the automotive group to publicly confirm whether and to what extent (France, Europe, world) the use will take place on a large scale or will already take place.