50 Years of GS1: A Guide to the Barcode

The barcode has become an everyday occurrence that customers and consumers perhaps don’t put much thought into. However, for businesses around the world, the barcodes produced by GS1 are considered a crucial component in global trade.

Thanks to the GS1 barcode, manufacturers are able to track and identify their products as they move through each stage of the supply chain. The scan of a barcode can be heard around the world 6 billion times a day and 90% of businesses in Europe adhere to GS1 standards.

What is in a Barcode?

Barcodes encode key identifiers such as product, shipment, and location. Attributes like serial and batch numbers along with expiry or production dates can also be found in the data. The information is encoded via an element string which is a combination of a GS1 application identifier and an AI data field.

Global Trade Item Numbers are the most common identifiers and are applied to products or services that are priced, ordered, or invoiced at any stage of the supply chain. GTINs provide a common language for all trading partners worldwide to uniquely identify items and easily communicate information.

They are encoded by an Electronic Product Code tag which is a syntax for unique identifiers assigned to physical objects, unit loads, or locations.  They can be represented in binary form which is suitable for use on Radio Frequency Identification. GS1 standards are focused on high-frequency and ultra-high-frequency tags. Other common application identifiers include batch and serial numbers or expiry dates.

Types of Barcode

EAN/UPC: In the UK we use European Article Numbers (EAN) while Universal Product Codes (UPC) are used in the US. These are the most recognisable barcodes and are tailored towards high-volume scanning environments like retail.

GS1 Data Bar: Often found on fresh food. This barcode holds information like product batch numbers and expiry dates. It can also contain other items like item weight. The Data Bar consists of seven total symbols. Four are used at the point of sale and the most common is the omnidirectional symbol.

GS1 -128: Versatile one-dimensional barcodes which are essential for tracing items as they move through the global supply chain.  The barcode can hold any GS1 ID key and contains information like serial numbers and expiry dates. They are typically found in general distribution and logistic environments. 

GS1 Data Matrix: The healthcare sector primarily makes use of the GS1 Data Matrix which was introduced in 2018. The two-dimensional barcode can hold substantial amounts of data in a small symbol which usually takes the form of a square or rectangle. The symbol can be found on patient wristbands, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals and can be used for tracking across multiple locations. The Data Matrix has become a vital component in following GS1  standards.  

KMsoft first partnered with GS1 in 2016 and over the years we have provided off-the-shelf and bespoke solutions to various clients across the industrial and healthcare sectors. With our StockAssist solutions, you can enjoy full control over stock with a real-time view of your inventory at your fingertips.

Find out more about our solutions here, or get in touch to book a demo.


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