Think of a code, any code. What’s the first code that comes to mind? Most people would answer “barcode”. That little beep when a product is scanned at the checkout is one of the most recognisable sounds in the world. As manufacturers, we know that a barcode is more than just a “beep”; the bars and numbers that make up a barcode hold layers and layers of information that can be used to trace, identify and manage the product through the supply chain. Powerful stuff. But barcodes are not the only code with power. True, they may be one of the most popular and well-known codes, but there are many others that manufacturers should know and use to improve their business processes — especially traceability. (Here’s a bit about why why traceability is so important and why it’s one of the top 5 trends contact packers should be aware of.)
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The trick is to know which code is which and when to use it. Here are 5 codes we believe every manufacturer should know…
1. Use-by / best-before In Australia, the Food Standards Code states that packaged foods with a shelf-life under two years must have a use-by date on the primary packaging and a best-before date in most other cases. So what’s the difference?
- Use-by date: this has to be followed by the day and/or month by which the product must be consumed.
- Best-before date: this is an indicator of when the product will begin to degrade from its optimal quality — including when the food becomes stale, begins to taste “off” or goes mouldy. (Those might sound like obvious hints not to eat it, but the best-before date code still has to be included legally!)
2. Batch numbers / codes A batch number or lot number is critical for traceability. According to FSANZ, traceability is “the ability to track any food through all stages of production, processing and distribution (including importation and at retail).”
The concept is simple: all packages with the same batch number are considered to be the same in all respects. For example, 2 packets of biscuits may have exactly the same ingredients in the same quantities, but just before the second packet was produced, a nut factory was built next door to the biscuit factory. As a result, the second packet must have a different batch number to the first.
The same would apply if any one ingredient were sourced from a different supplier — even if the end result looks, tastes and appears the same as every other packet of biscuits. If the consumer, retailer or manufacturer identifies a problem with a product, the batch code allows the product to be traced back to a specific batch. Products with the same batch code can then be recalled or withdrawn from the supply chain. The smaller the batch, the less costly it is for the manufacturer. Find out more about batch codes on the FSANZ website.
3. Identification codes Identification codes are also used to trace a product through the supply chain. Identification codes may be in the form of barcodes or alphanumeric codes. They can be printed on labels that are affixed to the product, or printed or engraved directly onto it. With parts manufacturing for example, the advantage of directly adding identification codes ensures that the code remains on the part even if a label is lost over time. Identification codes can include information on the model number and serial number, factory information, date of manufacture and other relevant details. The code can then be read at each point in the manufacturing, assembly and testing processes to track the product’s location and performance. The codes tells the manufacturer exactly where each product is in the factory, and when it exits the line. To read these identification codes, an automated vision system integrated with software such as Matthews iDSnet can be used. These systems can image the part, locate the identification code and look up the code in the system database. The software then updates the database with the current location of that individual part.
4. Barcodes Barcodes can be used to identify trade items/products, locations, logistic units/cartons or pallets, and assets in a wide range of industry sectors, from retail to healthcare. A barcode (also often written as “bar code”) is a machine-readable image used to represent data. A barcode scanner decodes the image and sends the data back to a computer system where it’s interpreted and processed. Not all barcodes are the same, and different types of barcodes are needed for different applications.
There are 3 applications you should be familiar with:
- Product: also referred to as “primary barcodes”, product barcodes are used at retail point of sale (POS) and are included within the artwork of the retail packaging. Their technical name is a GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) barcode, because they comprise a number that uniquely identifies the trade item globally. Product barcodes can also be used to contain variable measure weight or price information.
- Carton: barcodes on shipper cartons are used to identify products when they’re being transported or distributed, and satisfy retailer demands for barcode compliance. These barcodes can be printed with your carton artwork, if you have a dedicated carton for each product (or SKU) you manufacture. Alternatively, you can use a generic carton with product-specific information printed and applied to the carton within your plant. Find out how to apply carton labels.
- Pallet: a shipment can contain pallets or containers of mixed products or single products. These are also known as “logistics units”. A Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) is used to identify, manage and track the logistics unit throughout its lifetime in the warehousing, distribution and transport process. An SSCC is typically represented in a GS1-128 barcode.
5. QR codes and promotional codes QR codes are two-dimensional computer-generated images that can be scanned by smartphones or tablets to generate an action. Created in Japan over 20 years ago to help manufacturing lines in the automotive industry, they are now almost exclusively used by brands to communicate with consumers. In its simplest form, you just aim a smart phone at the QR code, software deciphers it and then connects you to a webpage.
For brands, the biggest benefit of QR codes is the ability provide extra information to consumers without using up valuable packaging space. They also prompt an immediate action by consumers, such as competition entry, feedback or purchase. Another more traditional type of promotional code is the alphanumeric code. Their most popular use is for temporary on-pack campaigns, enabling you to create a buzz around your product — or a special offer — without repackaging your product (or re-designing the packaging). This is not only extremely cost-effective, it also makes it easy to track results. A system such as Matthews iDSnet can generate and manage promotional codes as well as keep a record of what is printed.
Discover more on how QR codes and promotional codes can benefit your business in “Cracking the promotional code” and why QR and Datamatrix 2D codes are still relevant in 2016. You may also find this article interesting on how QR codes are being used with UV inks to prevent counterfeiting pharmaceuticals, and how QR codes are being used in serialisation as another anti-counterfeit measure. And see this article on how Millennials are forever changing packaging with regard to delivering unique, authentic content — and where QR codes fit into that.