GS1-128 barcodes – setting the standard now and into the future

Greg Kasprzak

Greg Kasprzak, senior product marketing manager for drop-on-demand printing lines at Markem-Imaje, explains how barcode evolution and deployment is adapting to modern market demands

BARCODES are ubiquitous. Almost every product – consumer or commercial – has some form of coding on the packaging… as does the transit carton in which they were collated… and the pallet that was loaded with the cartons. The shipping container almost certainly had some form of visual ID too. This desire for product validation has been driven not just by a simple need for identification, but also local, national, and international legislation-driven track-and-trace solutions; especially in consumer-packaged goods, food, pharmaceutical, and other industries where end-user quality is paramount and a risk to health/life may exist.

The wider deployment of more informative and comprehensive coding has been bolstered by increasingly data-capable manufacturing, processing, and production systems, which, as a result, can more accurately track and record individual products and components from raw materials to finished goods. This means that almost every step of the value chain can be recorded in some way, and therefore shared. And it is this capability that is underpinning the ethos behind modern cradle-to-grave track-and-trace systems.

To deliver the right information to the right people in the right format, you need the right coding solution, and this is where GS1-128 codes are setting the pace. The growing adoption of this standard across broader range of industries is certainly defining a lot of our development efforts, as we go where industries need us. GS1-128’s primary advantage over other coding solutions is its ability to display multiple application identifiers (AI), from a selection of hundreds, not only Global Trade Identification Numbers (GTIN) as is customary with most other barcode formats. Typical AI’s in addition to GTIN would include a manufacturing date, best-by date or expiration date, with other metrics such as weight or length. To drill down even further, lot and batch numbers can also be coded to help with track and trace.

As a company that designs, develops and builds code-application hardware, it is our responsibility to make sure these codes are not only easy to apply, but also offer the long-term legibility required to fulfil their purpose. We must also achieve this at an investment and maintenance level that is palatable to companies of all sizes.

From a technical standpoint, printing to brown corrugated packaging sets a challenge, as we have to not only deliver suitable contrast, but also ink stability, something our hot melt printers have proved countless times out in the field. Printed GS1-128 codes must also pass muster in terms of ANSI grading, with a Grade C the minimal acceptable quality.

With printheads capable of delivering up to 200 drops per inch in the cross- process direction, combined with our Touch Dry ink solution, this is also well within reach of our printers.

As the criticality of a product’s quality levels climbs, so does the complexity and legibility of the identification code it requires. It is essential users are not tied to a restrictive legacy coding system that does not deliver the information they wish to impart, and that price does not become a prohibiting factor.

GS1-128 coding has developed into a multi-purpose solution that covers a huge range of applications and products. As its usage grows, the technology to apply the code must keep pace and adapt to new markets and wider existing market needs.

Criticality of quality defines criticality of print, which, in turn, is defining our development efforts in what will become critical code-application technology.