2D codes conquer the packaging industry

A view into the supermarket shelf shows: Two-dimensional codes are gaining ground. Numerous packaging are already equipped with black/white pixel-based images. Their importance within industry and intralogistics is growing rapidly as 2D codes have been designed for fast automatic acquisition.  Thanks to their data redundancy, even defective codes are still legible. 2D codes can encode much more information on less space than traditional barcodes. All this develops numerous new fields of application.

More space for advertising and customer loyalty campaigns

Packaging and marketing experts have to observe numerous directives but also the corporate design when marking products. A home run for the 2D code. Thanks to its high density, it provides all required information on smallest spaces - such as minimum shelf live or information on batch or production. In addition, customers and prospective customers receive useful additional information via QR code and mobile phone on the manufacturer's website. Thus, customers are linked closer to the company.  

Focus on consumer protection  

Moreover, the new codes enable the comprehensive and seamless traceability of goods, which turns out as significant advantage considering everyday product recalls across all industries. Whether salmonella in food, contaminated cosmetics or poor components: defective products can harm consumers, cause losses of image as well as massive economic losses. Using the 2D code, each individual article can be localized globally. Based on the specific serial number, producers and consumers can clearly identify articles if required. That represents a perfect tool for determining whether the article is subject to be withdrawn from circulation. The proper application and specification of 2D code contents allows for serious and sustainable companies to limit recalls, save costs, and to take responsibility for consumer protection. 

Brand protection is mandatory

According to industry insiders, about ten percent of all drugs sold worldwide are counterfeit or manipulated. Even cut olive oil and cheap wine goes to sale alleged as high-class products as well as deceptively real looking “original accessories”. Poorly plagiarized products lead to losses in sales and are threat to life and limb. To avoid this, authorities and industries, such as fashion and pharma industry, are using 2D codes for comprehensive and gapless coding and marking of packaging. A prominent example is the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/161 for counterfeit protection of Prescription drugs: An ISO standardized 2D data matrix code serves as unique coding. Before handing out drugs to patients, pharmacists check their serial numbers against a database. Thus, it can be ensured that only trusted medicines are placed on the market. Apart from the packaging, manufacturers of technical products also apply 2D codes directly on the products. This is what the expression “Direct Part Marking” stands for.  

Accelerate intralogistics 

Even within automated flow of goods, the D2 code scores with its advantages and clear, machine-readable status information. Since the age of online commerce and the Internet of things, requirements on manufacturing and packaging are growing. Material and information flow can be controlled, accelerated and managed error-free with an industry 4.0 suitable infrastructure. In times of increasingly comparable products, that allows for setting apart from competition through highest availabilities and delivery speeds at reduced costs. In the case of increasingly comparable products, a differentiation from the competition is made possible by high availability and delivery speed at reduced costs.

All major parcel services now use 2D codes for advanced delivery information on packaging and accompanying documents: UPS uses the Maxi Code, DPD uses the Aztec Code and GLS uses the Data Matrix Code. Even the classic stamp is increasingly being replaced by online printed 2D codes. The payment is secured through cryptographically encoded information in the code after customers have registered at the service provider.

Variable coding and marking

According to product, material, application and fabrication, there are different technologies to generate 2D codes in the required quality and speed. Within pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food industry, industrial coding and marking systems with HP cartridges are the leading technology. They allow for marking packaging and products clearly, fast and contact-free via ink. By using the maintenance-free industry printers which can be positioned in multiple ways, various surfaces can be marked smear-proof.

Coding and marking via labels is possible as well. In many cases, 2D codes are printed by thermal and thermal transfer printers, inline printing modules or inkjet printers on self-adhesive labels which are integrated into the packaging line and applied afterwards. 

When a captive marking of excellent quality is required, modern industrial laser marking systems are used. For contact-free direct marking of products made of plastics, metal and other surfaces, CO2 or fiber lasers are used in particular.

Within high volume printings, for example, of cartons, brochures and patient information leaflets, flexible but also very cost-intensive digital printing machines are gaining ground. They are able to run variably within high-volume sector as well. 

Quality is decisive

Any company that prints and manages codes, should subject them to a standardized quality control according to ISO/IEC 15415. Variations in surfaces, colors, material structures, production conditions, inks and much more can have negative effect on the printing quality of 2D codes. Although even damaged or badly printed codes can still be read with handheld scanners or mobile phones, deficiencies can become expensive in fully automated processes. At high production speeds they can even lead to a complete readout at worst. At the interpack, on May 8, 2.00 pm, Hall 10 Room 10.1 at the HP SPS Partner Technology Forum, Wilfried Weigelt, Head of REA VERIFIER, will give a lecture about the importance of quality control.

They came in order to stay

There are numerous advantages in comparison to traditional barcodes. This is why the 2D code is gaining ground across the broad: It encodes more information on less space, meets legal requirements, enables marketing activities and website linking, accelerates intralogistics, and realizes proof of origin as well as counterfeit protection. The 2D code could finally and rightly take off on its triumphal course.

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