Interoperability in Action: Harnessing the Power of 2D Barcodes and RFID

Ian Einman

Chief Technical Officer, Seagull Scientific

The era of 2D barcodes

The AIDC industry has been working toward the conversion from 1D to 2D barcodes for a few years now, building a technological infrastructure to support the transition — BarTender has included “one-click” Digital Link encoding since 2018, and our hardware partners have been building scanners and printers to facilitate this change.

But the GS1 Sunrise 2027 initiative marks an inflection point. The retail and logistics verticals are now grappling with the nuts and bolts of a mandate to migrate from a UPC-based retail supply chain to one that runs on 2D web-enabled codes.

While industry works through the challenges, it should not lose sight of the tremendous opportunity this evolution in data carriers presents. Web-enabled 2D codes provide the ability to capture and convey information in real time for every individual item in the supply chain: data that consumers want including allergen, nutrition, and provenance; data to expedite recalls like handling, chain of custody, lot and batch; and the item’s most current location and states.

Digital connections to the physical world are going to become expected, not exotic.

RFID as an enhancement, not a replacement

New encoding schemes (TDS 2.0, for example) are being implemented so that RFID can also carry the same data payload as 2D barcodes, enabling the physical – digital (or “physical”) connection.

Rather than becoming a replacement for barcodes, though, RFID is used as a complement. By encoding RFID and printed data carriers with the same information — in the case of Digital Link, pointing them to the same web resolver — each node of the supply chain can access identical, real-time product data in the most efficient way. Bringing a pallet into a storage facility? Its location is logged via RF interrogators at the dock door. Stocking shelves with a case from that pallet? Purchasing an item from that case? A barcode scan at stocking or point-of-sale records that.

Using the two technologies in tandem builds real interoperability into the supply chain.

Seamless experiences across devices

Industry is just beginning to appreciate the benefits of labeling in the cloud: the resources required to manage infrastructure are vastly reduced; centralized access and management creates efficiency and flexibility; and fifth generation cellular (5G) enables design and data access from anywhere.

Cloud customers expect a seamless experience, wherever in the world they are, and it’s a mistake to assume that everyone is working from a Windows device. Labeling needs to be device agnostic, accommodating the user’s preference. Zebra and Android devices are common in the field and in the warehouse, and our customers expect to be able to work with their labeling where they are.

Are we headed for a day when end-to-end label design and data integration happen on smart phones? Probably not. But the power of cloud computing includes putting the convenience of simple tasks like workflow approvals and minor edits in the hands (or pockets) of users, anywhere, any time.