The new GS1: Are you aware that traditional 1D barcodes will gradually disappear from 2027?
Current 1D UPC barcodes have been used to look up price and serialize products over the last 50 years, but as demand increases for more product information on packaging, brands are switching to 2D barcodes that can store more product information for both retailers and customers to access. New 2D barcodes including the new GS1 Digital Link, are preparing to transition out 1D barcodes as the industry ramps up for a 2D barcode sunrise period starting in 2027. So, just what is the new GS1 Digital Link and why is it so important?
You will almost certainly already know the global non-governmental organization GS1, the barcode’s main standard bearer and pioneer that revolutionized retail from the 1970s, and which are now used by over two million companies worldwide and in 6 billion daily transactions. Now, in the wave of digitalization, GS1 has launched a new standard, GS1 Digital Link, which will again produce a sea change in product identification digitally connecting products and establishing dynamic or ‘hot data’ as a global standard for the first time. This makes significantly more product information accessible to the entire supply chain – from manufacturers to consumers.
The Digital Link is seeing barcodes upgraded from the traditional 1D barcode with its global trade item numbers (GTINs) of 14 numbers, to a unique 2D barcode including the GTIN but also an important amount of additional embedded data for manufacturers, retailers and consumers to utilize.
MI’s Erik Lagarde, Global Strategic Account Manager, and Viktor Hermansson, Marketing & Communications Director, attended the GS1 Global Forum in Brussels last month where the GS1 Digital Link sunrise period kicked off. We spoke with them about the importance and implications of moving from 1D to 2D dynamic barcodes.
In a nutshell, why is GS1 moving to 2D codes and the GS1 Digital Link and what role will MI play in its roll-out?
Erik Lagarde: Currently, manufacturers face a challenging environment of ever-increasing raw material and energy prices, further regulatory requirements in traceability, and consumer demands for improved transparency and visibility of product information. In addition, sustainability KPIs, new packaging materials, and the circular economy add dynamic new elements to the agenda of producers, retailers and consumers. The transition from 1D to 2D codes, and especially the Digital Link QR code, is critical as it is possible to embed a larger amount of personalized and variable information in one code, to create a connected product that can easily be used by several different stakeholders. One single QR code will be able to deliver different information depending on the scanning device. For example, the consumer can use his or her smartphone to access nutrition tables, expiry date, recall warnings and promotional offers; while the same code can be used by the cashier to charge, and by the manufacturer to verify authenticity, but also to put out a recall message. The serialized, connected QR code permits the end-to-end supply chain stakeholder to better connect and share information, enhancing transparency and product authenticity and traceability, while enabling consumer engagement.
The GS1 Digital Link QR barcode is also a trigger to start rethinking packaging artwork, and the implementation of the 2D code has the potential to become a major industry gamechanger. Imagine that you no longer need to add the full ingredient list in multiple languages onto packaging artworks. You will save design space; you can optimize your SKU inventory and even go as far as removing the entire packaging material in some cases. This potential of having new space on the product, and the dynamic nature of the Digital Link, allowing the late-stage customization of information, represent a major benefit for brand marketeers.
Markem-Imaje is actively supporting the transition to this new standard that will bring benefits to brands, retailers and consumers. By attending and sponsoring the GS1 Global Forum, we had the chance to listen to concerns and expectations but also ideas on how to adapt our solutions. This will assist us in providing technical and consulting expertise to our many brand customers to manage this shift from package printing to product traceability data and digital consumer engagement.
How much of a change will it be for manufacturing to move from 1D to 2D barcodes?
Viktor Hermansson: MI has seen the market progressing towards the printing of 2D codes over the past decade. Printing QR codes with just a static URL on flat surfaces is no challenge for the industry but becomes one when more complex codes embedding variable information for connected products are used.
We have identified two challenges when implementing the GS1 Digital Link QR code. Firstly, the content of the code itself; what and how much information will be embedded in the link. The new standard will impact the management of data, meaning both the data flow to and from the production line, and serialized, but also hot data, that needs to be embedded in the code. Depending on their applications, brands may need to access and aggregate data from ERP systems as well as production lines for use in the 2D GS1 Digital Link barcode, as well as having the expertise to design a complete coding solution.
Markem-Imaje has invested heavily in innovation in recent years with a well-balanced mix of printing technology and software solutions to support our customers for the emerging demands of printing, inspecting, and encoding variable product data in2D barcodes. Our portfolio of printers is primed for a broad range of packaging substrates, and now our software solutions cover the entire end-to-end story, from simple code and message design, thru code & packaging validation, to traceability, authentication and digital, connected product experience creation for consumer engagement. This includes the possibility of adding associated product manufacturing data and URL data to GS1 compliant barcodes that can be used throughout the supply chain by manufacturers, distributors, retailers and consumers.
The second challenge will be to choose the right printing technology for the application. Some simpler applications, e.g., batch production with minimal GTIN product identification needs, could be done with offline pre-printed labels, while other applications demanding standard GTIN product data and on the fly, serialized codes or variable production data will require inline printing. Current printing technologies have no issue printing variable data 2D barcodes on flat surfaces but the increased focus on environmentally-friendly substrates and reducing packaging materials is putting pressure on the marking and coding suppliers to develop new printing technologies that can print on almost any substrate and shape. Through close collaboration with key customers, Markem-Imaje has developed a totally new disruptive technology called Super Piezo Inkjet technology, which is unique on the market. It allows complex QR printing on 3D surfaces at very high production line speeds. We can today already print variable data 2D barcodes at 120 m/min or 100.000 bottles per hour. If you want to know more, visit our booth at the interpack exhibition in Düsseldorf, Germany in May.
What’s next and what is the time frame for the implementation of GS1 Digital Link?
Erik Lagarde: Of course, any new standard takes time to implement, and similarly to the Food Safety Modernization Act, Digital Product Passport and GS1 Digital Link with serialized QR codes, there is a sunrise period. For GS1 Digital Link, the official go-live date is 2027 but the ecosystem has already engaged in its transformation, with retailers already updating 80% of their POS scanners to be able to read the GS1 Digital Link. Every day, we see new examples of how the serialized QR code, replacing the 1D barcode, is being applied e.g., cheese and wine in some supermarkets in France, or cold cuts in Norway, are some examples. We see a push coming from different sources: regulatory compliance is one, but also big retailers that see additional benefits such as waste reduction, traceability information, dynamic prizing of fresh foods close to expiry date and boosting the operational efficiency of their in-store staff. Not all regions nor manufacturers or retailers are at the same level of maturity, but adoption will expand quickly due to the aforementioned benefits. One of the main challenges manufacturers will face is to agree internally on the content of this new GS1 Digital Link. Markem-Imaje is already working with leading CPG brands on their first projects encompassing inline printing of 2D barcodes and creating digital experiences for both retailers and consumers for connected products. This journey has just begun and it’s really exciting to be part of the implementation of the new global standard – touching the life of so many people!