Labeling Trends for 2022

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Anto Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) industry (businesses that create technologies to automatically identify and capture data from an object, such as barcode or label) has undergone a series of major transformations. Several of these transformations revolve around shifting consumer behaviours, supply chain disruptions, the explosion of e-commerce and digital transformation as well as societal demands for greater consumer safety and organisational sustainability.

But as we progress toward a post-pandemic era, the long-term impacts of COVID-19 are still being felt by both labelling industry and barcode industry – even as we approach the end of 2021. To better understand where the AIDC industry is headed in 2022 and beyond, we asked six industry experts to give us their insights on ongoing labelling industry trends, developments and shifts, as well as new industry regulations on the horizon and the future of labelling technologies.

Kevin Berisso, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Director of the AutoID Lab, University of Memphis

As the director of the Automation Identification (AutoID) Laboratory at the University of Memphics, Kevin Berisso focuses on education both students and companies on the use of the correct AutoID technology (e.g., barcodes, radio frequency identification (RFID), magnetic strips, biometrics and smart cards) for a given problem.

What are some trends regarding labelling that will continue into 2022?

The encoding of variable data is probably the prime trend that we continue to see grow. As the need for serialisation and extended attributes (e.g., expiration data, batch.lot, etc.) continues to grow – along with increased demands by consumers for item-specific information (especially in terms like fresh foods) – the need to be able to quickly and accurately label products will become more of an issue for more manufacturers.

The other issue that will continue to expand in the labelling industry is the need for machine-readable marking as things like augmented reality and the Internet of Things (IoT) continue to take root. For several years, I have been arguing that 2D matrix symbology and radio-frequency identification (RFID) will be the keys to allowing blockchains to break out beyond cryptocurrencies. It’s because more of the non-currency-based use cases for blockchains revolve around identifying items and recording their presence or state on the blockchain.

For this to happen, everything that interacts with either IoT or blockchain solutions will need to be positively identified. And RFID and 2D matrix symbology are the keys to that identification. This means that everything will have to have a unique, permanent marking (i.e., label etc.)

Of these trends, which will become permanent developments beyond 2022?

The increasing importance of data. At the end of the day, it has always been, and will always be, all about the data. Over the last 20 or so years, we have seen an increase in the importance of data analytics in the labelling industry. It seems that everyone is concerned about the processing and analysis of the data. But everyone seems to overlook the reality that, without barcodes and RFID, data wouldn’t exist at the massive volumes that are being processed.

Everyone is talking about how COVID-19 has brough the criticality of the supply to the forefront. But no one seems to remember that the humble barcode is the underlying technology that allows companies like Amazon, FedEx, UPS, DHL and Walmart to track, trace and accurately move the billions of items that are being shipped every which way. I would have to say that the ability to label, scan, identify and act (based on the data) is what is here to stay.

Are there any major or minor shifts that is foresee to happen in 2022?

I was at the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) conference this year, and there was a lot of discussion around autonomous mobile robotics (AMRs) – think Spot from Boston Dynamics – and the increasing maturity of the space. There is a tremendous amount of time, money and effort being put into artificial intelligence and machine learning. We are going to see an increased amount of use of AMRs for data collection. This could include cycle counting of inventory by the same platform that is being used for security purposes.

The other area I expect (or maybe hope) to see an increase in activity is the use of extended attributes on items in packaging and distribution facilities in conjunction with automation. We currently have intensive automation, which includes the ability to incorporate data such as batch/lot and expiry information on products at the “each” level.

With an increasing number of AIDC vendors in – including direct communication paths to underlying automation equipment (or programmable logic controllers (PLCs), which are industrial computers that have been optimised for automation) – I expect to see an increase in the number of companies who are using these two trends to catch items on recall further back in the supply chain.

Steven Keddie, Senior Director AIDC, GS1 Global Office

As Senior Director of AIDC at Global Standards 1 (GS1), Steven Keddie manages the GS1 identification system and portfolio of automatic data capture technologies. GS1 is an international standards organisation working to improve efficiency, safety, and visibility throughout the supply chain. One of their most prominent contributions is the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) system, which identifies companies and their products and services as used in UPCs, European Article Number (EANs) and other barcodes, as well as in the electronic product codes (EPCs) for RFID tags.

What are some trends regarding labelling will continue into 2022?

GS1 2D barcode labelling for fresh foods. Using GS1 DataMatrix 2D barcode labelling for fresh foods (e.g. vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, prepared meals, etc.) will grow in acceptance with retailers and consumers. We see a big overall push for 2D barcodes for the following use cases:

  • Traceability (enabled by batch/lot or serialised product data)
  • Freshness/waste prevention (improved sell-by date management)
  • Consumer food safety (preventing sale of expired products)
  • Recall management (catching recalled products at point of sale (POS))
  • Inventory accuracy and management (first-in/first-out products)
  • Consumer engagement (access to web-based product information)

Reducing the rapid increase of data carriers

The shift to reduce the number of data carriers (barcodes and symbols) on-pack will help minimise confusion to consumers and trading partners, who expect a seamless experience of connecting products to relevant experiences in the digital world.

Business and regulatory demands on product packaging have grown dramatically in recent years. In the past, every product had a single barcode that served the purpose of going “beep” at the checkout. Today, product packaging often contains multiple barcodes and symbols that are intended to meet the need for more data and serve various purposes. Unfortunately, they cause consumer and a supply chain confusion and don’t always communicate with each other.

Consumers use their powerful smartphones to learn about products inside and outside of the store. In addition, manufacturers and retailers seek to interact with shoppers to share information about the benefits of their products and to unlock direct brand-consumer engagement. This means that all products must deliver accessible, accurate data for the companies who manufacture, transport and sell them – and ultimately for the consumers who purchase them.

As consumer expectations have evolved, technology solutions have advanced to try to meet an every-growing need for data that extends beyond the consumer to your trading partners and even to regulators. You may be a retailer seeking to improve return on investment (ROI) and checkout speed. Perhaps you are a brand owner looking to make a promotional QR code provide more value to your customer and your business. Or maybe you are a solution provider working to serve the labelling industry.

Whatever your role in the supply chain, there are ways today to reduce costs, provide transparency (and data) and create more engaging experiences that were not available just a few years ago. The use of QR codes and DataMatrix codes with the new GS1 Digital Link standard is providing the solution to unlock the above use cases. Currently, it is being piloted and implemented for applications all over the world.

Product lifecycle management through labelling

Product lifecycle management through labelling (2D barcodes and RFID tags) to enable deposit return system (DRS), raw material identification for waste management/recycling and product authenticity for resell.reuse are on the rise with countries and regions piloting and bring regulations to promote conversation.

High-speed array lasers

High-speed array lasers (binary control over multiple beams from one laser head) for inline product identification, we well as promotional and consumer engagement 2D codes.

Of these trends, which of it will become permanent developments beyond 2022?

The capabilities of printing, scanning and data analysis are reaching a tipping point that makes the migration to higher data capacity 2D barcode use cases a reality for many industries. Interoperability’s key to ensure systems connect to trading partners and, ultimately, the consumer.

Product codes and symbols must be interoperable – or able to work together to unlock the numerous benefits of accurate product information for customers and consumers alike. GS1 has launched the Global Migration to 2D program to support industry and ensure labelling based on GS1 standards for identification and data exchange continue to enable interoperability.

Are there any major or minor shifts that is foresee to happen in 2022?

To better enable the digital consumer, the retail industry is embarking on one of the biggest changes since the original introduction of the barcode: adoption of 2D barcodes. This journey will dramatically enhance the experiences of consumers, brands, retailers and everyone in between.

GS1 is supporting the labelling industry’s major shift around the world to harness the power of these barcodes and symbols to enable new business solutions for today and into the future. Additionally, the initial shift will be the use of 2D barcodes in addition to the EAN/UPC linear barcodes for general retail products and fresh food. The addition of QR codes using GS1 Digital Link formatted data or GS1 DataMatrix will depend on the business use case.

What’s a concept or issue in the AIDC industry that doesn’t get enough attention?

The concept of pre-printed labels or packaging with traceability or consumer engagement data encoded in a 2D barcode. Pre-printing of 2D barcodes can be used in conjunction with inline barcode scanning and production data collection to record lot/batch and serialisation of a production run. This also enables matching the raw materials to the pre-printed labels/packaging.

Secondly, imaging scanners capable of inline barcode validation of product printers (label and direct print). Today, variable information is often printed as part of the production process in text or in 2D barcode. The use of the inline barcode validation camera systems can ensure the quality of the labelling and identify drops in quality before they become an issue for downstream partners. Lastly, the use of direct printing on corrugated cases with digital colour or black ink has made significant improvements in opacity – and with the update to the Iso/IEC 15416 linear barcode verification standard, they generally exceed the minimum grade to general distribution.

Are there any regulatory concerns or rumours about new regulations on the horizon that will negatively or positively affect the realm of labelling?

There is an increase in regulatory pressure across the globe, whether it is about taxation, sustainability, traceability or safety for the consumers. There’s are topics that will only grow in importance. GS1 standards and the 2D barcode can enable the labelling industry to comply with these regulations.

Harold Boe, President and CEO, Seagull Scientific

Seagull Scientific provides powerful barcode software and labelling solutions that help businesses across the globe cut costs, improve quality and reduce downtime – and Harold Box has helped lead the charge since the late 1980s. Bye joined Seagull as a software developer in 1988, just as the company was getting off the ground. He leveraged his strong technical background to lead the Engineering teams, eventually becoming Seagull’s first Chief Technology Office. In 2006, Bye assumed additional responsibilities as President/CTO, before becoming Seagull’s President in 2012 and President and CEO in 2016.

What are some trends regarding labelling that will continue into 2022?

The nimble and resilient supply chain

The pre-pandemic supply chain was built with the highest value placed on cost reduction. It was a beautifully running machine when we stopped it. As we restart it, it’s not enough to go back to doing what it used to do so well, which by itself would be a huge challenge. Additionally, it needs to adapt to shifting suppliers, shifting routes to market, and shifting consumer behaviour.

As we put it back together, companies are having to place a higher value on being nimble and resilient. A shift from one supplier or route to market to another can’t get bogged down with labelling requirements. Systems are being built out to handle labelling changes that keep pace with the speed of the business.

Automation

In this nearly post-pandemic world, for the sake of employee safety and efficiency, processes like labelling are being increasingly automated. This helps keep workers safe, as they don’t need to be physically present for as many tasks. It also improves speed, accuracy and efficiency, which are so valuable as part of a nimble and resilient supply chain.

E-commerce

The pandemic rapidly increased the pace of consumer adoption of e-commerce. This changed the way many companies provided goods and services. Customers have a growing expectation of door-to-door delivery, and product labelling must keep up. And customer behaviour may shift rapidly again as storefronts reopen. Labelling systems need to be built to rapidly adjust to consumer behaviour.

Personalisation

Linked o this e-commerce trend is the expectation of personalisation. When the consumer selects a product online that is being delivered to their door, they are increasingly choosing products that speak more directly to them as an individual. Labelling can be great, low-cost way to address some aspects of personalisation.

While it requires better data systems to feed into the labelling process, there are additional benefits that can be gained from such endeavour, such as error reduction, increased fulfilment speed and traceability that can help a company quickly realise both efficiency gains and improved customer engagement at the same time.

Traceability

Increasingly, companies are seeing the value of a visible supply chain. Knowing exactly where a product is, and is possibly stuck, can help speed goods to market. There are also opportunities to use this traceability information or post-consumer applications, like obtaining product usage data. Having the data systems to provide the tracking information for the label – and the ability to scan it back in at multiple points in the supply chain – is delivery companies value in efficiency, accuracy, and market data.

E-labelling

Today’s consumers are often looking for a deeper engagement with the products they purchase than physical labelling can provide. E-labelling is a great way to meet this demand – and when done properly, can have other benefits such as gathering marketing data back from the consumer.

Of these trends, which will become permanent developments beyond 2022?

All of these are going to be growing trends well past 2022. Some of these – such as personalisation, traceability and e-labelling – are still relatively small and will someday be ubiquitous.

Are there any major or minor shifts that is foresee to happen in 2022?

I don’t see major shifts occurring, but rather incremental shifts in all the trends I’ve identified. I suspect the next major shift in labelling will be related to print technologies.

What’s a concept or issue in the AIDC industry that doesn’t get enough attention?

Companies often look at personalisation, traceability or labelling from a narrow point of view. When. you are only looking at one benefit – be it efficiency, accuracy, customer engagement or additional market data – it might be difficult to justify. But when you look at it in totality, there are significant ROIs to be achieved. This requires that you bring the marketing and operations teams together to collaborate on the issue, which isn’t always easy.

Are there any regulatory concerns or rumours about new regulations on the horizon that will negatively or positively affect the realm of labelling?

Regulation, when done competently, has strong benefits for companies that are quickly compliant. Because these regulations are generally tied to product safety, impacts are very positive. Consumers get more accurate Information – and it provides us an opportunity to add value by letting companies know that they can quickly and efficiently manage labelling compliance with BarTender.

 

Article credit: https://www.seagullscientific.com/resources/blog/label-trends-and-predictions-2022/