Often when adopting new technology, the focus is on the numerous opportunities and hurdles. However, what’s not often captured is the emotional aspect of integrating new technology within a rapidly evolving technological landscape. It’s somewhere between when “redundancy” swiftly replaces what was once considered “cutting-edge” in promising the elusive pot of gold at the end of an ever-extending technology rainbow.

Embracing change is undeniably challenging – particularly when aiming for changes that are resilient and not swiftly superseded.

This is also the case with the potential deployment of 2D barcodes.

So where does the tension lie? Like most things, it is a combination of stepping into the unknown and the lag between deployment and extracting the full benefit.

Within the industry, we need to better articulate how powerful the interim benefits are along the journey. Companies such as ours, FreshChain Systems, can help unpack that understanding.

Why do I believe the transition to 2D codes exemplifies such a significant change? Our progress and resilience have historically been anchored in our collective ability to communicate and exchange ideas, rather than operate in isolation. This is precisely where 2D barcodes shine. Let’s simplify the concept of a 2D barcode versus a 1D barcode. “2D” stands for two-dimensional, while “1D” stands for one-dimensional.

Allow me to draw an analogy: think back to the school gym, where there was that rope the teacher made you climb. It only allowed one way up and one way down. If two people attempted to climb simultaneously and then tried to pass each other, it led to chaos and inefficiency – it was strictly one person in, one person out.

Now, envision the jungle gym: multiple entrances, exits and pathways, with numerous participants moving in various directions.

That’s the essence of a 2D barcode – it facilitates the embedding, capture and sharing of extensive data among multiple stakeholders.

In contrast, a 1D barcode merely consists of a string of numbers or characters, perhaps serving as a product identification. However, a 2D barcode can incorporate web links that direct users to authorised websites, enabling customers to verify product authenticity, triggering alerts at checkout, or allowing inspectors to validate product treatment and approval during interstate travel.

Implementing a 2D barcode is as straightforward as imprinting it onto an item. This can be done either in-line (as the barcode is generated) or pre-printed. The key distinction and advantage between in-line and pre-printed lies in the depth of information that can be embedded within the code versus what is stored in the cloud.

Why is embedded data significant? While it may not be crucial for all players in the supply chain, it holds particular importance for those engaged in millions of daily transactions, such as retailers. Embedded data eliminates the need for time-consuming permissions from cloud data owners, ensuring key data elements are readily accessible.

It’s crucial to emphasise that while digitising and embedding data within these codes offers numerous benefits, the crux lies in ensuring that both the meta and transactional data are accurate and reliable. When executed effectively, the impact can be transformative, enhancing data accuracy, expediting data analysis and sharing, facilitating access to verifiable claims, and accelerating processes from approvals to ordering.

Deployment and implementation of 2D systems requires considered thought and partnering with those who not only understand the technology but the workflows of every potential supply chain actor who may need to participate. The use of global data standards for encoding key data elements is crucial for enabling systems interoperability or the ability to communicate data exchange seamlessly, accurately and verifiably. If not, you might find yourself back at high school climbing up that one-way rope.

Where is that expertise and knowledge held? Well, Australia’s largest processing and packaging exhibition – APPEX – happens 12-15 March at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Lined with subject matter experts and showcasing the latest breakthroughs, this is the place to question and learn.

Check out the Retailer Engagement Hub – a partnership between Matthews Australasia and the Australian Food and Grocery Council for some targeted learning. Here, industry experts will take attendees on a deep dive into the challenges and solutions of barcode and labelling for top-tier retail supply – including a focus on 2D barcoding. The Retailer Engagement Hub will show you how to stay compliant with the major retailers.

Greg Calvert is co-founder of FreshChain Systems, a fully integrated, blockchain-enabled, paddock-to-plate assurance system that verifies the food we eat.

Greg is presenting at the Matthews-AFGC Retailer Engagement Hub at the Australasian Processing and Packaging Expo (APPEX) 2024, covering ‘How 2D barcodes can unlock opportunities for brand owners’, ‘How 2D barcodes can support regulatory requirements’ and ‘Smart packaging and the new consumer’.