Every professional in the field knows the importance of labeling in logistics and supply chains. Whether we talk about kanban manufacturing practices, warehousing or long distance transportation, raw materials, components and finished products need to be tracked. This principle has not changed from the dawn of the industrial era. But the way we create and read labels has changed dramatically.
The Evolution of Labeling in Logistics and Packaging
The first labels were, of course, handwritten. From the classic fountain pen to the somehow sturdier ink pencil which cannot be erased, for decades the budding supply chains depended on a very unreliable type of label – one which could be torn off, or become unreadable after being exposed to wind and rain.
Print labels were one step forward, but the details still had to be filled in by hand, since the printed label was only a general template. The true evolutionary step which allowed the boom of global trade and supply chains was the barcode.
Barcodes have been around for so long that it seems nothing can be invented to top it off. But if we look at the global trends in supply chains, we realize that labeling in logistics and packaging must continue to evolve. There is an ever increased need for traceability and real time information concerning shipping lots and warehouse inventories.
Key Trends in the Evolution of Labeling
1. Global Standardization
World trade appeared and keeps developing thanks to standards in anything from currency exchange, customs and transportation fees and packaging materials. The need for increased reach at global level is accompanied by the need to have a fair pricing policy for each destination.
The importance of labeling in logistics and supply chains is closely connected to this drive towards standardization. If there are different barcode readers and each type of barcode contains different information, there is no way to unify the market and create the premises of better terms and conditions for international shipping and retail. Alternately, a standard label type at global level will eliminate friction and encourage a larger volume of sales across all the supply chains.
2. Labels Need to Become More Complex
The barcode has already found its next generation adversaries in QR codes and RFID labels. Handheld barcode readers are replaced by smart IoT devices, able to read and transmit information in real time.
The content of this information is also evolving. Both manufacturers and end customers demand more data to be included into the barcode, allowing them to trace each product to the manufacturing plant and even the source of the raw materials. Barcodes are now facing the pressure from various regulatory and statutory requirements to contain certain information needed for customs, and even in the fight against counterfeit merchandize.
3. Advanced Labeling in Packaging Brings Together Digital and Traditional Practices
Logistics is evolving, but it also maintains its tried and proven traditional practices in warehousing and supply chain processes. Cutting edge labeling technology will give logistics workers and managers a “best of both worlds” approach in blending the way logistics processes take place with the latest technologies, such as augmented reality, Google Glass, smart handheld devices and mobile desks.
Fast and secure data transmission combined with the best practices developed along the decades in logistics and supply chains will help companies increase their efficiency and productivity.
4. All Stakeholders Receive Access to Labeling Creation
What if companies no longer need to re-label finished products after assembling parts received from a supplier? And what if retail stores can use the labels of received packages for their own internal evidence, without having to change them to another model?
The trend in supply chains is to harmonize within the manufacturing and distribution loop, by offering all stakeholders – vendors, suppliers, distributors, retailers – access to the technology which allows them to create one label for all phases of the product. Thus, there will be less confusion, less downtime, less inventory errors and lost products. The key is to unify all the parties involved in the journey of a product and have them add information to the same label.
5. Labeling Professionals – More In Demand than Ever
Technology is not going to implement these changes and trends on its own. Talented professionals are at the heart of these changes, and successful companies will invest more money in attracting these professionals. In the race for standardization the winners will be those who offer the best solution – and only skilled people can develop it, assisted by technology.
The future of labeling in logistics and supply chain belongs to cutting edge technology, indeed, but only in the hands of the right people.