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Cracking the Barcode: The Secret of Supply Chains at Scale

The supply chain is becoming more complex as both consumer expectations of transparency and the scale of logistics rapidly increase. According to recent data, 87 percent of chief supply chain officers (CSCOs) find it “extremely difficult to predict and manage supply chain disruption,” with 84 percent pointing to visibility as their primary concern. Combined with the sheer number of packages shipped every day — around 19 million for UPS and 13 million for FedEx — significant challenges emerge. How do enterprises keep pace with the scale of supply chain logistics without losing process visibility? Thankfully, there’s a simple, 45-year-old solution: barcodes.

The Instant Gratification Imperative

Consumers are now accustomed to shipping that’s not only fast, but fully transparent. Services like Amazon Prime deliver goods within one or two days to large urban centers, provide shipping confirmation, package tracking, and in many cases email photo evidence that the items were received in good condition.

The humble barcode makes this possible. Originally created by the Uniform Product Code Council (later renamed GS1), barcodes were designed to increase checkout efficiency and accuracy in post World War II America. Universal Product Codes (UPCs) have evolved to meet industry demand, driving the creation of new technologies such as RFID and QR codes capable of capturing not only product information but also supply chain history, intended destination, and key recipient data.

Changing the Game

As noted by Food and Beverage Magazine, there’s now a push for end-to-end traceability in food supply chains. Where did products come from? Where have they been? What are they made of? Driven by always-on connectivity, IoT and mobile devices are making this demand a reality by incorporating even more data into barcodes.

According to Chain Storage Age, 82 percent of supply companies surveyed said they plan to expand their warehouse operations and 77 percent said they need ways to augment workers with improved technologies to handle this expansion. Specifically, there’s a growing need for Android-based, hand-held mobile barcode scanners that can quickly and accurately read barcodes — and the next-gen SDKs that power them. Given the variety and volume of 1D and 2D barcodes now making their way through evolving supply chains, there’s no room for downtime. Staff must be able to read barcodes on-sight and on-demand.

Seeing Is Receiving

And it doesn’t stop there. Tech Radar says new barcode technology is on the horizon that will let customers scan and pay for their own purchases in-store and use previous purchasing history to recommend new products or offer discounts.

As a result, supply chain companies, retailers, and logistics management organizations need technology that allows them to read barcodes even if they’re poorly printed, damaged, or partly missing. The sheer volume of products and packaging constantly moving from origin point to warehouse to destination demands easily-integrated application support for damaged 1D, 2D, postal and patch codes, along with the ability to create and print new codes in-house.

Put simply? Barcode-reading apps allow companies and customers to view detailed item data. If solutions can’t keep up with broken codes or incomplete labels, they’re on the receiving end of falling organizational efficiency and user frustration.

Barcodes are now an integral part of the end-to-end product journey and essential to support supply chains at scale. To keep pace, enterprises need barcode solutions that deliver speed, accuracy, and certainty on-demand.