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Regulation and Traceability of Manufacturing: Barcodes

Manufacturers all over the world import and export packages daily; doing so with confidence that they will arrive safely to their destination with minimal damage due to their traceability. Production technologists and technicians assure that information trials of packages’ locations are kept using scanners and barcoding. Barcodes and radio frequency identification (RFID) are basic components of traceability. Barcodes are perhaps one of the most unique constituents of packaging in existence.

Figure 1: 1D barcode

Barcodes are essential for the manufacturing and tracking of goods on an extremely broad scale. Usually found in 1D (linear) or 2D format, they organize processed information and are displayed geometrically. 1D codes, shown in Figure 1, are displayed as a series of black lines. The pattern of the black lines with white spacing between is a binary code that varies in size. Each package or product has its own unique barcode. The Universal Product Code (UPC), also referred to as the product’s “encoded number,” consists of 12 digits that are uniquely assigned to all distributed and retailed products. 2D codes usually look pixelated with small and large squares, and are used as a vehicle to promote sales and tracking packages. Examples of 2D codes are postage stamps and QR codes such as those that are usually plastered on advertisements and used in retail for storing data such as emails and hyperlinks.

Both 1D and 2D barcodes are measured using scanners. Scanners use photoelectric cells to read the binaries on barcodes. When an item is scanned, the scanner reads the pattern as it is in motion. Once the scanner identifies the code as white stripes, they are then detected and transferred from the scanning device to the computer. Computers are responsible for converting the lines to “ones and zeros,” and determining the output once the numerical values are converted. This is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Conversion from barcode to binary code

The technologies used to make barcodes are results of product strategy in the field of packaging. These barcodes and scanners are vital to ensuring concise, traceable products through transportation and distribution. Each time a package arrives to a new destination, it is scanned then placed in its appropriate location until its next shipment. This is especially important in the case of product recalls. When recalls occur, retailers stop selling the defective products, and manufacturers stop production. In distribution, however, the termination is not as simple. To recall a product in distribution, the barcode scan history must be analyzed to track the location of the product. Once it is tracked down, it can then be returned to the manufacturer. If these products are not properly traced back to the manufacturer, they can continue their journey to the consumer. This fault in the transportation phase of distribution has the potential to cause a loss of hundreds to even millions of dollars for the manufacturer of faulty products.

Barcodes and barcodes scanners have had a large impact in packaging and distribution. Being able to properly track a package through transportation can have many effects. These effects range from simply tracking when a package will arrive, to potentially saving companies large amounts of money when items need to be quickly found.


Pargeter, A. Robert. “Barcodes I.” The Mathematical Gazette, vol. 78, no. 481, 1994, pp. 2–6.,

Costa, Jody. “Best Practices for Traceability in Manufacturing: Why You Need Real-time

Track and Trace Solutions Now.” Motorola Solutions. Zebra Technologies.

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