From what was originally a ‘professionals only’ operation, barcode reading has also become an option for the world’s camera cell phone owners, for whom another ‘app’ is available: the ability to use their phone to read a 2D barcode via a QR (Quick Response) code on a label, and connect via wifi to retrieve product information and traceability. This technology is now finding favour as an alternative to ‘specialist’ readers across the professional logistics and track-and-trace market, and adds another dimension to the available options with self-adhesive labels.
International standards for the many available barcode system platforms are now resident within the global GS1 supply chain management standards association. They include EAN/UPC, ITF-14, and GS1 DataBar and DataMatrix, as well as the EPCglobal standards for RFID implementation.
While standard barcodes require line-of-sight ‘reading’, RFID (radio frequency identification) does not. Indeed, as prices for RFID tags have come down, the technology has been adopted in many key application areas – particularly in the retail environment, for item-level stock management as well as security. RFID has proved a highly-flexible technology, regularly partnered with self-adhesive labels, and it continues to develop new functionalities. RFID ‘smart labels’ – consisting of a chip and antenna – are usually applied to a pack or product contained within the self-adhesive label laminate, which offers the option of additional print on the label face. Both passive (generally read-only), or active tags (tag data can be modified or rewritten, and can be transmitted over a longer distance), can be accommodated in self-adhesive labels, for reading either with a handheld device or via a computer portal. Tags may be overt – visible on the package – or covert, according to requirements.
The number of levels at which authentication, tamper-evident, and track-and-trace elements can be added to products has grown exponentially. The devices may be overt or covert, to provide the broadest possible umbrella of protection for everything from ethical pharmaceuticals, foods and beverages, and medical devices to legal documents, designer handbags, automotive and aerospace parts, toys, CDs, and consumer electronic goods.
Security and track-and-trace solutions are often layered on item-level packaging in customer-unique (and even product-unique) applications, especially for high-value goods. They will combine overt and covert options. Many of these options are incorporated in the stock-in-trade of the self-adhesive label converting companies who provide pre-printed logistics labels or rolls of label ‘blanks’, to meet product manufacturers’ increasing needs for authentication. Security features such as customer-exclusive ‘watermarks’; UV- or IR-light-detectable fibres; and chemical taggants can be engineered into a self-adhesive label substrate. The label converter can also add visible and invisible features, on press, at a number of levels, using, for example, ‘sympathetic’ inks (reactive to changes in light or temperature) and varnishes, or special diecuts to create product-unique identifiers.
All in all, the self-adhesive label offers an unmatched flexibility and versatility in both straightforward day-to-day inventory labelling, and in advanced options. Self-adhesive label converters around Europe, and their labelstock suppliers, are both an excellent source of information on the extensive opportunities available to brand owners and other companies transporting goods across increasingly-wide geographies. Whether transport and logistics label volumes are large or small; simple or complex; and whichever imaging processes they utilise; it is worth talking to a self-adhesive label converter to learn how any specific track-and-trace labelling challenge can, successfully and cost-effectively, be met today.
Self-Adhesive Labels: the functional advantages for transport and logistics applications