Beyond RFID: Using QR codes for supply chain optimisation

Logistics is the invisible industry that drives global economies, and when logistics fail, waste creeps in. This is especially true in sectors like medicine and food, where inefficiencies make for unusable shipments.

Research conducted by the IQVIA Institute of Human Data Science estimates that biopharmaceutical firms lose $35 billion annually due to improper cold chain logistics management. The food industry likewise relies on shipment analytics and extensive data monitoring to ensure food safety procedures are followed throughout the supply chain.

Efficient logging of vigilant condition monitors is pivotal to the efficiency of supply chains. Since the rise of the internet of things, logistics firms have come to rely on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) scanners and tags to monitor shipments, but these systems are prone to errors.

Dynamic 2D Quick Response (QR) codes, such as the ones displayed on tags networked by Finnish startup Logmore, are a much better solution, due to their low cost and ease of use.

Here’s how these tags trump RFID technology, unlocking new types of value to the supply chain:

Ease of use

Invented in Japan in the late 1990s, QR technology has been used as a simple way to point devices to web-based media resources. Some creative uses of “webhooks,” triggering servers by accessing dedicated URLs, have enabled other use cases for QR codes, such as logging or executing transactions.

By the mid-2000s, mobile phones were equipped with standard QR scanner capabilities that allowed anyone to scan codes and complete all manner of transactions..

For example, Alipay and PayTM use QR codes to provide mobile wallet services in China and India respectively. Consumers can transfer money to one another by scanning each other’s QR codes, eliminating middlemen from transactions. Their ease of use makes QR codes a perfect solution for the logistics industry.

Logmore’s inexpensive logger devices display new versions of their QR codes every few minutes. All an employee or supply chain stakeholder needs to do is scan the code using a connected smartphone, and critical data related to the condition of products in transit syncs with data systems. Data such as shipment location, humidity, temperature and light is saved to the cloud automatically and, using Logmore’s APIs, companies can build their own quality assurance apps, for either internal use or customer use.

This is in direct contrast to the way RFID systems work. These systems rely on expensive tags being placed on shipments. Employees scan these tags using specially designed RFID readers to transmit data, which can only be monitored by specially designed software. The cost of each RFID tag can exceed $20, and they’re just one part of an entire RFID system that costs much more.

Using RFID requires investing in a high volume of tags, plus proprietary reader hardware and control centres, and these systems are highly proprietary keeping your data siloed in their walled gardens.

As a result, the cost of supply chain monitoring via RFID is high. QR codes don’t need special infrastructure and deliver higher value for logistics firms that need to monitor the condition of their goods.

Superior system reliability

RFID systems rely on radio waves and are notoriously unreliable in environments where radio waves are compromised.

The presence of containers in shipyards leads to radio waves getting knocked around. As a result, misplaced shipments are common. Ports and shipyards have responded by automating processes, but the underlying reliance on RFID is the real culprit.

In contrast, QR codes can be scanned even if they’re damaged or unclean. They’re resilient and can withstand the rigours of international shipping, where RFID tags tend to get knocked about and detach themselves from their packages.

This means logistics firms can rely on QR codes to a greater degree, and this allows everyone in the supply chain to deliver value to manufacturers and consumers without implementing complex infrastructure.

Data accessibility as a standard

These days, business relationships demand increased access to data and analytics. Business buyers and end consumers are extremely conscious of the products they source. In response to this, firms have begun using QR codes to provide transparency. Bumble Bee Foods, an American seafood company, began including QR codes on its packaging in 2019 to inform consumers about where the product was caught, processed, and whether it’s sustainable and free-trade.

Governments have also begun recognising the importance of data accessibility and how easy it is to achieve with QR codes.

EU regulations effective February 2019 now require QR codes to be included in medicinal packaging. Patients can now easily access information about the drugs they’re taking and can determine whether they’re genuine or counterfeit.

Condition monitoring is especially relevant to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries that require the storage of drugs in specific conditions. For example, storing Insulin above a temperature of 8° Celsius makes it ineffective. Hospitals and labs utilise a variety of delicate instruments that have to be shipped carefully in certain conditions to ensure they aren’t compromised.

Logmore’s QR codes play a vital role in the pharmaceutical industry by helping logistics firms provide distributors and manufacturers with key data about the condition of their shipments.

RFID, with its specialised infrastructure, cannot provide this degree of access nor can it provide it this easily. By democratising data, QR codes help companies identify and hold back improperly handled goods from shipping, thereby reducing supply chain losses. This ensures greater product safety which is critical to industries such as food and pharmaceuticals.

The way to get ahead

QR codes offer significant advantages to supply chain businesses and are the way forward. The increased business value that they deliver at a fraction of the costs of an RFID system gives companies a way to stay ahead of their competition.

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