• 2D barcodes are set to be implemented by 2027.
    2D barcodes are set to be implemented by 2027.

Major supermarkets are upgrading their checkout systems, while the retail sector and producers are joining forces in focus groups to work on pilot projects. Their common objective: implementing 2D-codes on packaging by 2027. Specialist in dynamic weighing technology and product control, Wipotec, which will be exhibiting at APPEX on Stand C094, gives insight into what’s involved.

For most producers, implementing 2D-codes means a change in the packaging process. While they currently have a 1D-barcode pre-printed in the packaging design, they will need an additional 2D-code in the future. Since this code contains batch-specific information, it is applied in-line. In this process step, we usually find printing systems that will not be able to provide the required resolution.

Advantages and requirements

This development is not based on a legal requirement, although this assumption is understandable. Forward-thinking producers are now planning ahead to be prepared when their customers request the new marking.

Today, many manufacturers already mark their products with codes to coordinate logistics and warehousing. QR codes are also popular to provide general information about the product and brand. In addition, the classic barcode is the standard code for checkouts.

With the introduction of batch-specific 2D codes in the retail sector, packages only require one code. In fact, if this code is generated in line with batch-specific information, the entire supply chain up to the end consumer can access the same digital image of the product.

Clear inventory

The use of 2D codes, which include best before date and batch number, will significantly improve manufacturers’ inventory management. The digital image of the products makes it possible for manufacturers to retrieve up-to-date information about the best before date and the remaining shelf life of the products. This real-time data allows manufacturers to manage inventory easier and ensure that products are sold within their optimal shelf life, which results in less wastage. Consequently, the introduction of this technology will make inventory management more efficient and will save costs for manufacturers.

Easier recall

In the event of a recall action, the manufacturer immediately informs all relevant market players. Using this information, the manufacturer ensures that the products concerned are removed from the shelves and consumers are informed immediately. Recalled products are sorted out when scanned at the next point in the supply chain – at the latest at the checkout. This greatly reduces the risk for consumers and protects the brand image. If the production time is included in the code, such actions become even more precise.

Transparency creates trust

Consumers can easily access detailed and specific product information using the code. In addition to batch number and expiry date, this might also include the production date and quality control data. Information about the origin of the raw materials of a batch is particularly interesting for Fairtrade and organic products. You can also list ingredients, nutritional information and allergens online to complement the statutory information and update them on a batch-specific basis. This level of detail allows consumers to make informed decisions about the products they purchase, creating greater confidence in the manufacturer’s brand.

Customer loyalty

Manufacturers use web-enabled codes to offer exclusive promotions on specific batches. This targeted approach promotes brand loyalty and encourages repeat purchases. Thanks to this flexibility, digital content also provides customers with seasonal recipe suggestions. For perishable goods, the manufacturer may also inform consumers of recommended storage conditions and consumption times. Manufacturers then analyse this consumer interaction with the codes to gain insights into customer behaviour and better target their audience.

Falsification prevention

As soon as the 2D code on the packaging is standard, manufacturers will be able to add a serial number to its content. This will allow product authentication, which is especially important in industries where falsification is an issue. By scanning the code, consumers will be able to verify the product’s origin and quality, which boosts their trust in the brand.

Packaging optimisation

By connecting to the digital world, packaging becomes interactive. Manufacturers can update content dynamically, ensuring that product information remains relevant and current throughout the product’s lifecycle. As code usage increases, manufacturers are gradually moving to reduce preprinted information and provide it digitally instead. 2D codes are also very compact and can store a lot of information in a small space, which improves flexibility in packaging design.

Digital link

The basis for these functions is a so-called ‘Digital Link’, the successor to the classic barcode. This is a globally standardised code that creates a direct link between a real product and its digital image on the Internet. The product is then marked with a 2D code, although according to the current state of the art, QR codes have the widest distribution and the highest readability on end devices.

New code – new technology?

The additional 2D-code contains batch-specific information, so it cannot be printed with the packaging design. This task can therefore only be performed at the point in the production process where the batch number and best-before date are printed up to now. Since the codes are significantly more complex and require a higher resolution, the challenge for the printing technology increases. Manufacturers should therefore now assess whether their existing equipment is suitable for this application.

Print quality requirements

The standard of the retail industry for markings already is very high. It even increases when it comes to codes that are relevant for checkout and stock management. Therefore, producers need to verify the print result to ensure readability in stores and for consumers. This task is performed by a high-resolution camera.

Systems over components

Operators are usually controlling printers independently from the line. This principle is no longer appropriate, when a camera is added for print verification. Coordinating the individual components with each other takes an enormous amount of time during implementation and in ongoing production. For this reason, modular systems are employed in which marking, verification, labelling, weighing and even inspection tasks such as metal detection are fully integrated, according to the specific requirements. They coordinate all functions and allow the operator to control them via one central user interface. Product changeovers, article setup and layout edits thus become minimally error-prone and maximally user-friendly.

Looking ahead

Investing in a marking or labelling solution today means planning to ensure that the system is future-proof. It is advisable to consider the option to print the expiry date and batch number as text today and to add a 2D code tomorrow.

If projects like the European Commission’s Digital Product Passport become reality in the next few years, even individual serialisation of a single product should be possible with a simple upgrade.

This article originally appeared on page 26-27 of the PKN Packaging News magazine.

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