ALL4PACK Emballage Paris hosted a conference on 23 November entitled “Traceability – marking and coding for consumer safety”, an opportunity for industry experts to share their views on the topic.

Conference on Traceability
The speakers (from left to right) at All4Pack Emballage Paris Henry Saporta, editor-in-chief of Emballages Magazine, Laurent Tonnelier, president and CEO of mobiLead, and Erik Lagarde, global strategic account manager at Markem-Imaje.

Traceability: what is it for?

Traceability is basically defined as the ability to track a product throughout the production and distribution chain: this tracking is ensured from the supply of raw materials to disposal, via production and consumption, in order to clarify “when, where and by whom the product was made”.

Danone’s recent misadventures are also indicative of the flaws in traceability. Small bottles of Evian mineral water, which were promised to be destroyed for non-compliance, were found on sale in Marseille. Proof that a lot of work remains to be done, especially after the multiple twists and turns of the Lactalis affair or the Buitoni pizza scandal.

Thus, year after year, scandal after scandal, the observation remains the same: the consumer goods industry manages batch numbers, as well as expiry dates, the use-by date (DLC) and the minimum durability date (DDM), with varying degrees of efficiency. While the vigilance of the floor managers is essential, the withdrawal and recall of a product from among tens of thousands of references remains tedious.

The resources available

The 1D barcode, which appeared in the 1970s, does not allow for the integration of all the variable data necessary for the proper traceability of products. In a world where quality and safety are gradually becoming the watchwords, traceability is of paramount importance and is gaining ground in many industries, particularly the automotive, electronic components, food and pharmaceutical industries.

Laurent Tonnelier insists: “It is important to establish a common language and way of doing things between the various players in the production chain, from the manufacture of the product to the consumer’s purchase. And all this can only be done if norms and standards are established, and if reliable and available technology is available to apply them systematically.

These reliable and available technologies already exist with, for example, TooGoodToGo, the reference application in the fight against food waste, which has found alternatives, notably through the introduction of automated management with the aim of an “enriched barcode”. Another example is the QR code, or “quick response code”, invented in Japan in 1994 and which many people saw during the Covid pandemic.

The basis for a more adapted traceability

In response to these needs for information and speed, Erik Lagarde introduces us to the means of end-of-line coding/marking, in particular with the SPI (Super Piezo Inkjet), the latest Markem-Imaje technology for printing with ink on primary packaging. The device combines high quality, high flexibility and high speed, and makes it possible to mark QR codes to the GS1 Digital Link standard.

By embracing this standard, and replacing the classic 1D barcode with the QR Code, which can include both fixed and variable data in the form of “application identifiers”, it becomes possible to take into account all product references. However, this need must be tempered with a requirement for clarity for the end consumer, “for whom the information must remain as clear as possible”, says Henry Saporta.

The aim will be to incorporate the various cumulative data enabling a digital status of the product to be established, such as the EAN128 codes or the GTIN codes (for Global Trade Identification Number), in order to obtain an assembly of all the relevant data to obtain optimal traceability that can be read simply by the consumer, using his smartphone.

The advantages are multiple for all stakeholders: first of all, to make automatic the procedure of blocking at the checkout the batches of products subject to recall, thanks to a given batch number. In addition, this system allows the consumer to immediately know the specific and precise information about the product they are holding and not another one, thanks to a simple scan of the code from their smartphone. Another promising feature is that this traceability system could also contain information about the sorting and even the potential recyclability of the product or its packaging.

The traceability of tomorrow

These are the possibilities offered by Markem-Imaje’s new SPI system, which also offers the possibility of printing these 2D codes at speeds never seen before.

“We are now working on implementing these solutions, which really transform the possibilities offered in terms of marketing and production, and which are beneficial for manufacturers, distributors, consumers but also for the legislator,” continues Erik Lagarde, “because we incorporate all the hot data directly on the product, which makes interaction more immediate and easier for the functionalities necessary for better traceability.”

Laurent Tonnelier defines the GS1 Digital Link standard first and foremost as a common language to standardise, to standardise traceability through precise structuring, coupled with fast printing means to implement it (such as SPI), as well as accessibility by all, and at any time, through affordable technology, such as the QR Code.

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