QR codes are getting a facelift and are no longer just for website links or an easy way to enter a competition.

In the months ahead product manufacturers across the globe will continue preparations to transform the barcodes used on product packs and labels.

For more than 50 years the humble barcode has been used across supply chains to help with inventory management, procurement and to speed up the checkout.

But the barcode created back in the 1970s no longer has the technical capacity to fully serves today’s business needs. By combining the barcode with the internet, a whole new world of possibilities opens up – one that is set to transform how we access and share product information.

From GS1 barcodes to QR Codes with GS1 standards

The GS1 barcode is used on billions of products worldwide today and identifies items across many industry sectors and product categories.

However, with the advent of new regulations governing product safety, sustainability and traceability, such as the need to provide environmental declarations and safety sheets, installation and maintenance instructions, recycling information and more, regulatory bodies and trading partners are demanding more product information, and this needs to be done efficiently and digitally.

To meet these new demands, many industry sectors have begun transitioning to QR Codes with GS1 standards, as they can store greater amounts of product information and additionally can be scanned by a smartphones. This opens up a range of new possibilities for suppliers and end users to provide regulators, trading partners and customers with the information they need. This in turn improves traceability, efficiency, transparency and trust across the supply chain.

Rachel Heaton, GS1 UK, and Dan O'Gorman, GS1 Ireland, with the GS1 Demonstrator.

At the recent Digital Construction Week in London GS1 launched its innovative “Window Demonstrator” which showcases the use of GS1 Digital Link QR codes on maintainable assets such as a window and on building materials including exterior panelling and wall insulation.

The QR codes each link to different product information depending upon the credentials of the person scanning, e.g. an architect or maintenance engineer. To try out the online experience scan this QR code.

Sunrise 2027

The transition to QR Codes with GS1 standards is an innovative and forward-looking response to today’s business needs. The aim of this global programme is that, by the end of 2027, QR Codes with GS1 standards should be widely adopted by manufacturers on their product packaging and for retailers, and other end users, to have the ability to scan and process the data contained within them.

For Sunrise 2027 – the Global Migration to 2D to succeed, industry must come together to adopt a unified approach.

This major industry shift has already begun, with 2D barcode pilots in 48 countries across all regions. These pilots cover food and beverage, healthcare and construction sector initiatives.

Users should begin to review and choose the most appropriate data carriers for their needs. This can be either QR Codes (the most widely used and that can be read natively with smartphones) or GS1 DataMatrix (commonly used in healthcare).

Suppliers and asset managers need to determine what additional data is to be embedded in the barcode e.g., product expiry date, lot number, serial number, etc. And, finally, adoption of the GS1 Digital Link standard is also needed to direct end-users to an online product experience through a simple smartphone scan.

The GS1 Ireland website offers guidance on adopting 2D barcode technology, both GS1 Data Matrix Codes and QR codes, as well as guidance on GS1 Digital Link for accessing additional sources of information online. https://www.gs1ie.org/2d-barcodes/