ARTICONF Partners ADAPT to develop Decentralised supply chain of medical protective equipment between Austria and China

Earlier this year, it became painfully clear to many in Europe that the supply of face masks, gloves and protective overalls is by no means crisis-proof. A research team consisting of Austrian and Chinese scientists is now working on new technologies that will address different levels of the supply chain and will ultimately lead to a faster, more efficient and cheaper supply of protective equipment across Europe, even in times of crisis. In this joint venture, ADAPT will collaborate with ARTICONF and benefit from its developed decentralised solutions to provide a transparent supply chain of medical equipment between Austria and China.

Some 50 billion euros will be spent on medical protective equipment worldwide this year. Of that, around eight billion euros could be saved by optimising transport, and another 5 billion euros or so might be lost due to delays in payment transactions, according to the predictions of the ADAPT project research team. This money is often lacking in the health system and could be used more effectively there. Under the coordination of Radu Prodan (joint principal investigator of ARTICONF and ADAPT projects), researchers from the University of Klagenfurt, together with a team from the Institute of Automation at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, aim to jointly develop an adaptive and autonomous decision-making network to support all stakeholders along the supply chain.

Radu Prodan sees a need for optimisation on numerous levels: “A great deal is still done by hand today, which leads to higher costs and takes longer: We have trouble reconciling the quantities produced by Chinese factories and the quantities needed by European hospitals. While factories in one location are overwhelmed with work, others are only working at partial capacity. Transport capacities over land and in the air do not always match what is actually needed and the import of protective equipment is subject to lengthy checks to ensure compliance with certification standards. All of this delays billing and ultimately also slows the flow of funds between trading partners.”

The aim of the research project ADAPT is to provide a decentralised supply chain of medical equipment using ARTICONF’s Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) solution. There is a wealth of data to process in this network: the capacities of supply, demand and transport, real-time certification checks and production documentation, and opportunities for decision-making at all levels. According to Radu Prodan, the ARTICONF’s BaaS technology offers decisive advantages in this regard: it can ensure transparency across the entire supply chain and make many individual steps more efficient, for example by eliminating intermediaries.

This enhanced efficiency is urgent, Prodan adds: “Supply chains are often slow and devour far too much money. A shared, comprehensive and decentralised IT solution could significantly improve the situation in the future, saving many lives thanks to a more reliable and better supply of medical protective equipment.”

Preliminary work on ADAPT (Adaptive and Autonomous data Performance connectivity and decentralised Transport decision-making Network) initiated during the critical phase of the COVID 19 pandemic in Europe in the spring of 2020 and will benefit from decentralised technologies developed by the ARTICONF project. Alongside the University of Klagenfurt and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Johannes Kepler University of Linz and the companies Logoplan – Logistik, Verkehrs und Umweltschutz Consulting GmbH and Intact GmbH are also involved as project partners. The project has a budget of around 570,000 euros and will run for two years. ADAPT is largely funded by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency FFG.

ARTICONF partners DataCloud to develop federated resource and data pipelines as new measures to tackle the last few congested metres.

Today’s data networks are omnipresent in our life. Even so, although the data can pass through the pipelines smoothly and largely unhindered, the last few metres of the pipeline represent a bottleneck. Firewalls, security and the restrictions imposed by the processing software all tend to slow down processing. Now, thanks to a new Horizon 2020 project, a research team at the University of Klagenfurt, led by Radu Prodan, has started to work on new measures aimed at tackling the last few congested metres. In this collaborative European Horizon 2020 project, DataCloud will collaborate with ARTICONF and benefit from its developed Blockchain-as-a-Service platform to provide an end-to-end networked global Computing Continuum resource supply chain for enabling a federated data pipeline.

“We are approaching the issue on several levels with our project”, Radu Prodan tells us. He leads the project at the University of Klagenfurt. The first level is the so-called dark data. Prodan explains: “Much more data is generated than is actually used. The industry estimates that around 80 percent of the data is of no value and preserving it introduces more risks to companies than benefits. If process mining can be used to identify the structure of the data, assign it to the relevant processes and discard meaningless data, the overall process can be made more efficient and secure. This, Prodan argues, requires rethinking the complete software stack, starting with new domain-specific programming languages.

“Programming languages are a delicate issue in computer science. A great deal of software is still using old (and often outdated) programming languages. Yet the requirements are becoming ever more diverse, so it is not reasonable to assume that a single language can be used successfully for everything”, Prodan continues. Accordingly, the research team will propose different languages for each of the steps in the big data workflow processing pipeline.

In a third step, the researchers will eventually simulate how the new technology works. A simulator will re-enact the pipelines as accurately as possible to determine how the system performs in real-world conditions. To this end, five application cases guide the research team as part of the project: two companies are active in Industry 4.0, one example is concerned with multimedia sports broadcasting, one with digital marketing, and one case study will feature patient eHealth data management.

These different fields of application have one thing in common: they are keen to solve data processing issues quickly and efficiently. Here, the idea of the cloud continuum proves helpful. Radu Prodan explains: “We all know and use cloud computing today, for example, the cloud services provided by Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc. This involves the data being stored and processed centrally raising security and privacy concerns. By contrast, the cloud continuum concept assumes that we carry small mini clouds around with us in the form of our smartphones or other terminal devices. These resources ensure that data stays in the hands of its owner and the processing is confidential, reliable, and democratically organised by means of decentralised technologies such as blockchains. In pursuit of its vision, this project will avail ARTICONF’s blockchain solutions to provide a democratic system at the level of resources”.

The 5 million Euro project written during the first lockdown period has the title “DataCloud: Enabling the Big Data Pipeline Lifecycle on the Computing Continuum” and started in January 2021 for a duration of three years. The European Horizon 2020 program approved it with maximum points (15 out of 15) from a total of 96 submitted proposals. The acceptance rate was 5.2%.

This blog post was written by Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt team in February 2021.

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