Serialisation is a tried and tested supply chain trick. Its rewards flow from the manufacturer right through to the consumer. So why don’t more businesses take advantage of it? In the second of our blog series, we shine the spotlight on how to put serialisation into action.
In its simplest form, serialisation is the process of putting a unique mark on each product or product component at various packaging levels. Sounds simple, but when executed properly, it has the potential to unlock huge benefits around traceability and transparency in the supply chain.
In our previous blog, we explored the benefits of serialisation in detail, from battling counterfeiting and improving consumer safety, right through to controlling inventory and optimising the supply chain processes.
So how can you implement serialisation for your products?
Before you start, lay the groundwork.
As with every new process, you need to make sure serialisation really is right for your business. Of course, if you’re unsure, you can always start with a pilot program and evaluate from there.
The first step is to understand what you need to do from a compliance perspective. The key here is to be flexible; don’t design and build a system that conforms to today’s regulations but cannot handle regulation changes tomorrow. (And when you look at the changes to date, it’s really a matter of “when” and not “if” the regulations change.)
Next, make sure you understand how it works in practice. A serialisation system typically has four major pillars:
- Generating and managing unique identification codes
- Having systems and processes to capture and manage data
- Managing the links across the supply chain
- And finally, how the data is communicated across the supply chain
Using these building blocks — and depending on your brand objectives — there are three possible ways to implement serialisation for your products. You might start with serialisation only at the consumer level (point 1), and then expand it across all units of packaging (points 2 and 3).
- Serialisation at the consumer unit level only, with a unique number placed on the unit using a data carrier, g. data bar, 2D code, numeric code.
- Serialisation using the existing Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) — a serialised GTIN can be used for a more integrated approach.
- Serialisation across the supply chain, including cartons and pallets, for complete supply chain visibility and end-to-end track and trace.
If you use the GTIN, it is important to apply GS1 Standards. In this country, GS1 Australia is the only organisation authorised to register and issue barcode numbers, and will make sure the numbers you receive are unique against other numbers — and that no other business is authorised to use your numbers on their products. Fairly important.
Finally, before you begin, review data management from an enterprise level (ERP/MES), a plant level (MES), line level (SCADA) and machine level (PLCs and equipment), and consider the impact on your existing processes and line speeds.
The 4-step process to achieving serialisation at the consumer-unit level
Once you’ve decided which option is best for your business, have done an internal process and data-management evaluation or sought advice from a specialist, you’re only four steps away from making it a reality:
Step 1: Choose a serialisation software partner who can generate the unique code and has the ability to provide a simple front-end for validating the codes.
Step 2: Select a data carrier that best suits your business process. This might be a Datamatrix code, QR code, DataBar, numeric code, or GTIN. You can learn more about the different types of barcodes in our Barcode FAQs.
Step 3: Evaluate the various technology options available to apply the code in your production line. Compare the benefits of laser, print & apply labels, thermal transfer, and inkjet for your unique product and environment. The whole idea is for the code to be permanent, so many applications lean towards a laser.
Step 4: Work with your coding & labelling partner to determine the code’s location and permanency, and apply the code to your product using the right technology. It pays to work with a technology partner who understands serialisation and can provide serialisation-ready devices and solutions, like Matthews.
The benefit is that consumers are able to verify the products in most cases by simply scanning the barcode/data carrier via their smartphone app. Try scanning the demonstration QR code just below.
Take a look at how this works in practice:
- Your serialisation software partner generates a unique code.
- The code is sent to the to the business systems and coder/labeller using appropriate software.
- The code is then printed or etched onto the product, along with other product data.
- The data is sent back to the serialisation software partner and to internal business systems.
- The serialisation software partner registers the data in their database under the custody of the brand owner.
- The product is shipped to the consumer.
- The consumer scans the product using a free app on their smartphone/device.
- The serialisation software partner validates the code scanned to authenticate the item.
- The consumer knows it’s a genuine product, and the brand owner gets a report on which code is scanned in which location.
Take it further to achieve full track and trace
Many manufacturers will stop at consumer-unit serialisation. However, it’s worthwhile working out what you need to do to achieve full track and trace through the supply chain. You can do this by serialising your secondary unit and tertiary units too.
Initially, it might seem like a lot of work, but the rewards extend right through the supply chain. Essentially, it means that as the product change hands through the supply chain, the serialisation software partner can track and trace the item’s custodial history via integration with both the brand’s and the distributor’s stock-control system. Information will be available for each unique item, and you will be able to see who owns the product and the retail location of that owner. Pretty detailed.
10 important tips and tricks
Here are 10 important tips and lesser-known tricks that will help make sure your serialisation is a success:
- Move 2D barcodes away from other barcodes on the packaging so your scanning is efficient.
- Test how the code prints on several different substrates (especially if you’re planning to changing packaging down the track, or even think you may.)
- Use barcode grading to ensure your barcode can be scanned consistently at all stages of the supply chain. Don’t guess this, check it properly.
- Use a data reader for online verification.
- Ensure your existing systems can operate together seamlessly with serialisation-control software.
- Make sure your existing network can handle the data flow.
- Use validation processes in-line, such as vision inspection, data readers, etc..
- Develop clear processes on how any rework will be handled, and make sure any rework or samples removed for Quality Assurance doesn’t cause serial number linking to become out of sync.
- Control pallet aggregation and avoid cartons being moved around before a pallet is completely wrapped up and labelled.
- Control products being picked up from the line.
Ready to implement serialisation in your business, or seeking more information from an expert? Contact us and speak to one of our specialists today.
Serialisation was also a topic at the National Technical Forums, held as part of AUSPACK 2015. See our wrap-up here. You may also be interested in how QR codes are being used in serialisation to prevent counterfeiting.