The imperative of traceability

PW: What is an EAN-128 code?

TONY: It’s a barcode symbol, used on traded units or pallets, which allows additional information to be held about the product, as well as the article number.

PW: What sort of extra information can these codes give to wholesalers?

TONY: They are usually used to hold information such as the best before date, batch number, units per case, and other variable measurement information such as weight.

PW: How is all this information held in a single barcode?

TONY: EAN-128 uses special standard prefix codes called Application Identifiers (AIs) to define the data represented in the barcode so that there can be no confusion about the content. For example, AI (10) identifies the data as the batch number. The barcodes can contain a vast amount of information as there are almost 100 AI codes, relating to identification; traceability; measurement; transaction and location. However, only a dozen or so are commonly used.

PW: What are the benefits of having this information in barcode format?

TONY: The advantage of having the information in barcode format is that it can be captured with a barcode scanner without the risk of human error in transcribing the information. It’s also much easier and faster than keying in the information manually. The advantage of EAN-128 is that it allows all the information to be held in a single barcode, and avoids the confusion of a single item having several barcodes holding different pieces of information. The concept provides a clearly accepted open standard that can be used by all companies in the trading chain.

PW: Are special scanners required to read the information?

TONY: No, usually existing scanners will be capable of reading the information, although there may be an adjustment required to enable the EAN-128 capability.

PW: How important is all this to the wholesaler and where would he make use of EAN-128 barcodes?

TONY: The most important aspects for the wholesaler are probably the date control information, allowing him to rotate goods correctly in the warehouse, and the batch information, enabling traceability of goods. The wholesaler will capture this and other relevant information from the barcode automatically at the goods received stage. From that point the computer system will be able to trace that particular pallet with that product on it, using the information to help plan warehouse movements and activities

PW: Will all WMS computer solutions handle EAN-128 information?

TONY: No, I’m afraid not. These codes have only gradually been adopted over the last few years and some warehouse management systems still don’t support them. One of the problems is the variability in the amount of information contained in an EAN-128 barcode. The WMS has to be capable of accepting this – and it’s quite a complex programming requirement. If a wholesaler’s system doesn’t support EAN-128 he will have to key the data in manually from the human readable format of the information provided on the labels.

PW: So what does the future hold?

TONY: I believe that traceability will be one of the main drivers for the adoption of these barcodes, reflecting the increasing attention being given to food safety and consumer issues. The code is one of the best ways of automating the capture of the necessary information so there will be increasing market pressure for computer systems to handle it. As it becomes more widely adopted there will probably be a demand to routinely include other information which could assist warehouse activities. The more data a wholesaler can capture automatically the more efficiently he will be able to operate.