Don't Let the Sun Set on You

Here's a packaging-related issue for which you might not be responsible; however, you will be held accountable if things go awry. It was dubbed 2005 Sunrise in the last century, 1997, by the Universal Code Council (UCC).

Actually, things go back even further to the dawn of bar coding, 30 years ago, and the 12-digit Universal Product Code (UPC). Since then, the EAN.UCC System (European Article Number.Universal Code Council) has expanded rapidly and we fast-forward to 1997 when UCC announced that all U.S. and Canadian companies must be capable of scanning and processing EAN-8 and EAN-13 symbols, in addition to the 12-digit UPC symbols, by January 1, 2005. Since that announcement was made in 1997 for something required in 2005, it was met with a collective yawn by most retailers. Since then the term global economy has entered everyone's lexicon.

And as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, 2005 Sunrise is going to happen. The reasoning behind Sunrise, as with most labeling schemes, is to speed products to market in a more efficient manner. The 14-digit data structures you are (or will soon be) seeing are referred to as the global trade item number (GTIN). Currently the GTIN is used only in bar codes; however, it can, and probably will, be used in other data carriers such as radio frequency identification (RFID).

Many manufacturers have been distracted from bar codes, and from this UCC compliance issue, by the barrage of information emanating from RFID and its proponents. Since 1997, the curtain has fallen and time has passed. Global manufacturing and distribution have taken giant leaps forward. With the exception of the U.S. and Canada, retail products from around the world are now marked with EAN-8 and EAN-13 symbols. To sell those products in the U.S. and Canada, heretofore, manufacturers outside these two countries have had to relabel products with the 12-digit UPC symbols. While this might be a boon for label material manufacturers, it's been a waste of time and effort on the part of companies wanting to sell in other parts of the world as well as here. Things are about to change.

There are a lot of reasons for complying with Sunrise, not the least of which is to be able to handle a greater range of products. The stormy-weather side of this issue is that, if you're not in compliance, you run the risk of not being able to share standardized information with your trading partners. Potential service delays and additional costs might be incurred because relabeling will be required to scan product coming into your distribution network. There are many technical issues surrounding Sunrise, most of which are focused on point-of-sale labeling. I suggest you begin your education at UCC's Web site, www.uc-council.org. Another good source is a white paper available at www.symbol.com.

I said this is a packaging-related issue in that it involves labeling and quick response, along with customer compliance and customer satisfaction. Customers are hard enough to come by these days. What you need more than customer satisfaction is customer loyalty. You don't want any part of the packaging function to cause a customer to look elsewhere for satisfaction. The packaging function is changing in many distribution centers, particularly companies that use third-party service providers. Your next (not necessarily end) customer, the retailer, is requiring shelf-ready merchandise. Not only will you have to pick-to-order, you'll also have to pack-and label-to-order.

The bright side of this scenario is that label machine manufacturers have kept pace with requirements and compliance issues and the equipment you're using will most likely handle the job. The dark clouds on the horizon are the software and database management challenges.

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