In the last article titled “It’s a plane, it’s a bird, nope it’s a barcode” we looked at the basic operation of barcodes. For most business’s it will be to retrieve product information to complete a sale. Yet other industries have more complex needs.
For example, within the medical equipment industry there are now increased requirements for suppliers to know where there equipment is being used. This means if someone dies due to a non-sterilised scalpel in Germany they can trace back through an audit trail to which batch was infected and order a product recall. For a supplier that means they need to prove which piece of kit has sold to whom, when it was delivered, which lot had it been manufactured and when is the expiry date.
The FDA in America are now stipulating types of equipment that will need to meet this criteria, (more categories will be added in subsequent years). If companies have not put these procedures in place then simply won’t be able to trade in that market. Australia is following suit with Europe and the UK looking at legislation.
This now adds to the complexity from our first example. Firstly it would be highly unlikely that a private individual would barcode their “cucumber” to update the vegetable cabinet in their fridge. Basically the general public won’t care about the item after the sale. For related industries they will need to extract information that is meaningful to them. In turn this, will assist them track items within each of their independent systems. So therefore the vendor when selling the goods will need to produce a barcode that will contain relevant information that the “customer” can understand. (In this case the barcode needs to contain their own company id, product id, lot id, and expiry date). That means that the customer database should already have a current data set, which replicates that held by the vendor. Basically this means that both parties need to speak the same language.
If you extrapolate that to industries that trade around the world then that would require a central data file, that is constantly updated, with not only static information (Company information, product ID) but also variable information that is distinct to that particular unit of production (batch, serial number, best before date). As this technology has been adopted, increasingly specific industries have insisted on a uniform code across all ranges. Is this indeed what has happened?
Supermarkets (and the like) conform to the Universal Product Code or UPC. This means that a company signed up to this protocol will know that their product has distinct product identifiers that a competitor or cannot replicate. The EAN (European Article Number) has that distinct information plus additional codes for country of origin. ISSN is used for periodicals sold outside the US. There are now a number of protocols that determine what happens within their particular sector. Yet even then these sectors cannot “crossponelate”. The same digits used for JAN (Japanese version of EAN) as POSTNET (barcodes for US zip codes) would mean a lot of sushi being delivered to address’s in Minnesota. This where organisations such as GS1 apply standards across all industries to ensure no doubles ups. These over arching controls ensure each product and sector was protected. Depending on what products you hold will determine what regime governs how they are identified. The outcome can not only mean complying with legislation but efficient tracking of your product within the world supply chain.