Mark Beauchamp, European marketing manager for Citizen Systems Europe, looks at the development of new technology in barcode labelling and explores how this can streamline operational processes in monitoring factory equipment, while reducing costs and improving business outcomes.

During the post recession recovery, companies are finding they are having to work harder to monitor performance at all levels, in order to maintain and maximise sales and profit margins. Essentially, businesses need access to the right information, such as consumer demands, to allow them to act appropriately and accordingly to cut costs and improve operating efficiency. Tracking and traceability, including barcoding is one technology capable of delivering this knowledge to organisations.

Barcoding is an established means of recording, tracking and marking products throughout the supply chain. This technology presents significant opportunities for reducing costs through improved traceability, quality and security, allowing for minimised stock holdings, fewer returns, and importantly, offering immediate access to information at every stage of the supply chain. Ultimately, this enhanced level of control can result in greater creditability, product safety, supply chain management and brand integrity, which will, naturally, have a positive impact on the bottom line.

To meet the ever changing needs of production, packaging and retail organisations throughout industry, barcode technology has undergone considerable progression in recent years. One of the latest innovations has been the introduction of the new GS1 DataBar code, formerly known as RSS codes, which will be rolled out as a global standard in 2014. These codes represent a considerable step forward from the traditional EAN and UPC barcodes, which are found on every product sold in stores or supermarkets, carrying more information for identifying items within the same area on a product.

Furthermore, individual GS1 DataBar codes can be printed on much smaller labels, making them suitable for marking irregularly shaped and small items, such as loose materials and tools, handheld machinery or compact electronics, where traditional barcodes were just too big.

As well as the standard product code, GS1 DataBar codes enable Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN) detection for variable data including batch, expiration date, serial number, price, monetary value, size and weight. This opens the door for expanded product identification systems, traceability, product authentication and quality assurance.

With this greater level of accuracy and product data, manufacturers are better informed to make decisions about when and where to move products around the globe to maximise profits and cut waste. For example, a company can check the integrity of stock returned to them unsold, confident they can safely be forwarded to other market sectors for sales before their expiry date elapses.

The fact that GS1 DataBar is compatible with standard scanning and printing technology means businesses can implement this new method quickly, easily and cost effectively to start making a return on investment within a short time frame. In particular, a new generation of specialised desktop printers has been developed to make the production of labels with both standard barcodes and DataBar codes simple and efficient.

These latest printers from manufacturers such as Citizen Systems Europe, feature all-metal mechanisms and robust plastic casings, allowing them to operate effectively over long service lives in the most demanding commercial applications. All major components, including the power supply, Ethernet connection and wireless LAN, are housed inside the printer casing, providing a compact, reliable and safe solution to the problem of trailing cables.

The printers have a number of innovative features. For example, a vertically opening design makes it easy to access the inside of the printer for media and ribbon loading, while keeping the footprint of the unit to a minimum. Both media and ribbons can be changed in seconds. This can improve efficiency and reduce the risk of human error in warehousing and logistics applications, with staff then being free to focus on more important tasks.

A feature of the DataBar codes is the ability of the latest printers to work with various types and sizes of media. DataBar codes can be printed on extremely small labels and on plastic substrates, metal tags and paper labels.

Some of the latest printers available are streamlining processes still further through the addition of inline validation systems. This functionality allows the labels to be checked and validated as they are produced. If a problem is detected, possibly as a result of contamination or print head degradation, an alarm is activated, alerting users and allowing remedial action to be taken before operations continue as normal.

The introduction of revolutionary new barcoding technology is enabling manufacturers, distributors and retailers to access and share more information than ever before, helping to improve stock management, minimise waste and ensure traceability. Combined with the latest fit for purpose printing technology, businesses can quickly start realising the variety of benefits offered, including reduced costs, which, ultimately, can boost business performance, productivity and profitability.