EPC:The Next Generation Barcode

Electronic Product Code (EPC) is a unique set of numbers or coding schemes that identifies a specific item in a supply chain.  Unlike barcodes that can only distinguish between two product categories, such as a box of Trix and a 2 liter of Pepsi, the EPC can identify a specific item by its unique ID number.  That means the movement of every single box of Trix or 2 liter of Pepsi will be monitored as it moves through the supply chain.  Simply put, EPC tags are designed to identify each item manufactured instead of just the manufacturer, or class of products.  This emerging system uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to automatically identify consumer goods.  Many experts believe that EPC, together with RFID, will become as common as the barcode.  That is why it’s commonly referred to as the “next generation barcode.”

As consumer products move through the supply chain, from factories, to distribution, to retail stores, EPC tags offer improved information about specific items.  The EPC not only indicates the name of the manufacturer and type of product, but also specific product information, such as:

  • Date of manufacture
  • Expiration date
  • Flavor
  • Recalls
  • Whether a case or single item

This additional information will increase the safety of consumers because items can be traced back to their source.  EPC also ensures that proper quantities of specific items are available for purchase, keeping shelves stocked with your favorite products.  Because EPC has the ability to track products down to the item level, companies can use EPC-based RFID to help track inventory or reorder stock.  What is important to remember is that EPC is just the unique ID for a specific item, RFID technology actually transmits the code.

Currently, item-level tagging with EPC is still in the pilot stage and the majority of EPC applications are within the supply chain.  But with all the potential EPC has to offer, I think we’ll be seeing this “next generation barcode” make the move sometime in the near future.  If you need additional information about EPC you can visit EPCglobal at http://www.epcglobalinc.org/home.  If you need more information about manufacturers such as Intermec who support EPC you can contact me at ehodges@barcode.com.