Insights on Labeling, RFID & AIDC Technology Trends

As labeling continues to play an important role in the broader context of supply chains and consumer expectations, the movement towards a more efficient, sustainable and information-rich future creates opportunities for innovation and growth.

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The landscape of labeling and Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) technologies is starting to grow. This article will bring you insights on the trends shaping the future of labeling processes, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and the broader AIDC ecosystem. From the rise of mobile solutions enhancing workforce efficiency to the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) driven cloud platforms transforming labeling and artwork management and the ongoing movement towards supply chain sustainability.

1. Expected growth in mobile technologies to meet demands for efficiency & flexibility

With modern on-premise and cloud-based applications able to run on Android and iOS devices, all the tasks of picking, scanning, and barcode label printing can be done by the same worker, out on the retail or warehouse floor using a mobile computer device running label management software, and a rugged mobile label printer. Price shelf labels can be updated as needed, accelerating price changes without having to wait for a new shipment of updated labels to arrive in the mail. Shipping labels, packing slips, and inventory put away labels can now be done with mobile technology by a single worker, with Wi-Fi connected technology providing flexibility of warehouse layout for optimum workflow and not designing around AC outlets and ethernet ports on the floor or wall.

Everyone uses mobile technology in their daily lives for shopping and communication. Workers expect to have the same tools on the job. With the new generation of workers and high turnover of employees across the retail industry, mobile technology provides improved worker satisfaction and quicker training for the tasks. Mobile hardware for scanning and printing, coupled with a solid label management system will continue to grow in 2024 and beyond, allowing the mobile workforce to get the job done with more efficiency, accuracy, and greater job satisfaction.

2. Cloud-based platforms, now AI-driven, redefining processes in labeling & artwork management

The digital revolution is expected to continue in the world of labeling and artwork management to overcome challenges and ensure compliance. Cloud-based platforms, now AI-driven, are redefining processes for greater efficiency, compliance, accuracy, and sustainability. Real-time error detection, swift collaboration, and automated compliance checks accelerate production while meeting strict regulations.

This transition toward cloud-based, AI-driven systems aligns seamlessly with corporate sustainability objectives, minimizing environmental impact by reducing paper usage and wastage and making it easier to make bulk amends to labels to suit sustainable packaging changes. Companies will continue to embrace advancements in AI to streamline operations, allocate resources strategically, and ensure adaptability in a rapidly evolving market.

3. Trend in RAIN RFID will spur growth of the technology: Critical item attributes on-tag

There has been a long debate over the amount of data that should be stored on RAIN RFID tags. Advocates range from supporting minimal storage, relying on external databases to obtain further information. On the other end there are advocates that support storing detailed items attributes directly on the tag. However, a middle ground is emerging that compromises with both sides by storing a few critical item attributes directly on the tag, such as a date value or batch/lot number, and then if the user wants additional item information, they must reference a database.

The pharmaceutical and foodservice industries are working with GS1 to leverage GS1’s new encoding schemes that are based on this approach. The pharmaceutical industry is in industry-wide discussions that are driving towards the use of the new SGTIN+ encoding scheme. Tags encoded with SGTIN+ for the pharmaceutical industry will most likely include the critical item attributes of (expiration) date and batch/lot number directly in memory bank 01. A user in the field can quickly filter on a specific value (or even range of values with the pending GS1's Gen2 v3 spec that will be released soon), find the target items and use or remove the items from the value chain.

GS1 US recently published two guidelines, one for pharmaceutical and the other for foodservice, outlining the use of these new middle-of-the-road encoding schemes. These guidelines are easy to read, informative and promote SGTIN+ for pharmaceutical source-tagging and DSGTIN+ for foodservice case/carton tagging. Assuming the RFID community can drive industry-wide clarity and agreement to use these new encoding schemes, RFID adoption will grow rapidly—proof of concept and pilot implementations are already well underway.

4. Continued movement for supply chain sustainability in 2024 will impact labeling

Supply chain sustainability is a movement that is picking up acceleration. This priority is driven by consumer demand that is resulting in many companies rethinking their processes and materials and acting to be more sustainable and informative to their consumers. There will be a greater demand for information that can be accessible via labels. Consumers will expect access to contextually relevant information about products, such as: certifications, sourcing information or even environmental impact disclosures, to inform purchasing decisions. At the same time, brands will find solutions that enable them to tell compelling stories for sustainability actions they are taking. This increase in demand for more information will change the future of labels and will evolve for this specific purpose.

5. Predictions of a strong year for business in 2024, but not business as usual

AIDC technologies deliver what consumers currently want and regulators require—visibility into the origin of products, what they’re made from, who handled them and how they can be recycled or disposed of. With those macro trends growing and component shortages easing, AIM Global expects AIDC technology sales to grow in 2024. 

In October 2023, Procter & Gamble’s CEO and board chairman has called for 2D symbols to replace traditional barcodes for all products sold at retail worldwide by 2027. Trends toward more information-rich, AIDC-enabled packaging and tracking are evident beyond retail and extend to distribution, production, foodservice, healthcare and other areas. AIDC manufacturers and resellers should use 2024 to reexamine their product development and partnership strategies to prepare for a future where multiple technologies will converge to create more intelligent, connected products and ecosystems.

In 2024 and beyond, businesses are urged to stay agile, embracing these emerging trends and technologies to stay ahead of the curve. As labeling continues to play an important role in the broader context of supply chains and consumer expectations, the movement towards a more efficient, sustainable and information-rich future creates opportunities for innovation and growth.