It’s been that way since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
But, now, there’s all this talk about “mass serialization,” and soon it will be more than just talk. For some, it will come sooner rather than later. One day, you’ll have to give every item a unique serial number or, at least, some type of unique lot/batch/expiry date with more granularity than you provide today.
There has been a lot of focus on RFID for this, and it’s clear that encoding RFID labels on items, unlike shipping containers and pallets, can’t currently be done at full line speed. And, this is in clear conflict with the whole faster-better-cheaper mandate.
Fortunately, there is good news.
First, there’s currently no thought that the unique identification code must be absolutely sequential. In other words, you could pre-encode RFID labels for application with current labeling equipment. And, if there’s a problem with one label, you can simply use the next. Or, if you have two rolls of pre-encoded labels, it does not matter in which order you use them. It would be up to the database to keep track of the numbers and, while it might require some adjustments to the packaging line to provide multiple read stations, you would be able to read the ID much more quickly than you could encode it.
Admittedly, there will be some waste in this process, particularly with pre-encoded lot/batch/expiry labels, but it would be negligible, compared to slowing the line or adding additional labeling lines to handle the same volume in the same amount of time.
But wait; there may be even better news.
Back in the February 2008 issue, I previewed a new symbology under development called DotCode, designed specifically for high-speed, ink-jet coding of lot/batch and other information. Of course, DotCode can also be printed by high-quality label printers.
Development of that symbology has moved forward at the speed of light, in terms of symbology specifications. It has already been submitted for public review, which will be closed by the time this column appears. Major comments on it are not expected, meaning that it should receive final approval by the end of this year. Once it receives final approval, it will be published as an International Symbology Specification by AIM Global. That will also make it an ANSI standard, which can then be referenced and used with confidence.
Nevertheless, there are a number of speed bumps in this road. First and foremost is the necessity of GS1 and other coding and marking authorities to accept DotCode as an approved symbology. And, printer and reader companies will have to invest in development work to implement DotCode as a commercial product. Finally, even though DotCode is designed to be very tolerant of skew and other printing irregularities, a verifier or verification method will have to be developed.
Still, the possibility of being able to comply with mass-serialization requirements without having to slow line speed or even, in some cases, having to replace existing ink-jet encoders is an enticing thought.
Here’s where you—yes, you—play a critical role. None of the speed bumps will be overcome if you do not demand DotCode as a standard for marking. Work with your vendors, your industry associations and even your colleagues in other companies to promote the evaluation of DotCode for your application.
Without sufficient customer demand, DotCode is just another clever symbology that never gains mass adoption or helps solve the problem of mass serialization.