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RLA Label Standards to Become an ISO Standard

RLA Label Standards to Become an ISO Standard

by Ken Jacobsen, Co-chair of the RLA Standards Committee, RLA Standards Committee

Reverse Logistics Magazine, Edition 76

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If you’ve even questioned the value of attending trade shows, this story justifies the time. Executive Director Gailen Vick and Standards Committee Chairperson, Dr. Ron Lembke both attended the Reverse Logistics Conference and Exposition in Atlanta last April. We combined our show with Supply Chain and Transportation and the Modex shows bringing over 30,000 logistics professionals together. Serendipity abounded! Both men independently came across two significant players in the labeling industry: Denso, the inventor of the QR Code and the ANSI/ MH10 committee booth. As both described our project it was immediately recognized that we should be working together. Denso ADC joined our committee, bringing their knowledge of the technology. ANSI MH10 invited us to join their committee and joined ours as well. Mr. Vick was surprised at the response he received from these significant players in the labeling industry. “They were excited by the potential of our project to have a serious impact on labeling standards today,” he remembers experiencing.

Ron remembers walking around the show for technology related to labeling. He stumbled upon the Desno booth who suggested that he talk to Chuck Evenhoe at a booth near them. The show was shutting down, but everybody got excited. Mr. Evanhoe—who chairs numerous committees related to bar codes and RFID, immediately understood why our Data Dictionary was important for the industry. He, too, pointed Dr. Lembke to the MH10 committee. The fun began!

In dialog with the MH10 committee, the RLA Standards Committee presented a compelling argument that there is a need for improved labeling of products to facilitate Reverse Logistics, which includes product returns, repair, refurbishing, and recycling. It was considered that modern label scanning technology has advanced to allow the communication of considerably more information that would expedite and make more efficient business processes related to each of our areas of focus. The existing labeling structure is adequate for its task, but cannot be extended to include sufficient information to our target audience.

Standards committees enable commerce, reduce costs and protect consumers. Some focus on technology, some on interoperability, and still others on business processing. There are numerous standards organizations, usually with well-defined and specific focal points. Some of the more familiar and important organizations are the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the American National Standards Institute. Many countries have similar organizations to ANSI, and the ISO coordinates their efforts, in order to harmonize global standards. ANSI was organized in 1918 while the ISO was organized in 1926. There are 162 member countries that support ISO.

MHI is one of numerous standards bodies coordinated by ANSI. MHI is the nation’s largest material handling, logistics and supply chain association. It supports 17 different industry committees covering such issues as pallet sizes and automated warehousing equipment. The charter of MH10 (one of the committees) is “To facilitate freight movement within transportation and distribution systems by providing standards for transport-packages and unit-loads, including their dimensions, definitions, terminology, coding, labeling, and performance criteria; and to represent the United States’ interests within the scope of ISO/TC122.” MH SC10.8 is focused on coding and labeling of products. Its work is coordinated with numerous related ISO committees for International standardization. MH10.8.2 issues Data and Application Identifiers (DIs and AIs).

The RLA Standards Committee has developed a data dictionary for a new class of fields named FIs for “Field Indicators.” These FIs contain information relevant to product returns, product support and repair, and recycling. Our audience is the consumer and the front line of product triage. We have called them sQRl Codes.

While most product labeling is focused on transcription accuracy for tracking and inventory control, our focus is on providing more information to both consumers and front line logistics professionals. Bar codes store only about 1000 characters of information. 2D- QR codes can provide 4000 characters of information. What could manufacturers add to the label that would be useful to consumers and logistics professionals? While each manufacturer could create their own messages, there would be ensuing chaos as readers would each have to be customized to properly format the information.

By creating a data dictionary, sQRl codes can be used to list and identify URLs for data sheets and product documentation. They can include detailed instructions for product recycling. They can expedite warranty management. Mr. Bruce Brown, President of InforMission said, “Our vision is that these new labels would be located directly on the product so that the information is available even when the packaging and documentation is missing. The best part: the information is available through QR readers that work on modern cell-phones.” InforMission is developing tools to produce and manage QR code labels consistent with the new protocols.

With space for 4000 characters that include multiple web addresses, a small label can essentially provide a limitless menu of information. From the manufactures perspective, by carefully designing the labels based on the FIs developed for sQRl codes, they can improve customer relations, reduce call-center costs, and improve after-market sales along with offering pre-sales support. They can engage the customer in the end-of-life processes, reduce return fraud and improve market analytics. And, as noted by Paul Rupnow, President of Andlor Systems, “they can reduce data entry time while increasing data accuracy.”

We are diligently working with the MH10.8 committee to become a part of this global labeling standard. We expect the process to be completed soon. Once we have our ISO designation, companies that choose to adopt our labeling protocol will be assured of its global recognition. As an open standard, we expect that many if not most labeling technology suppliers will adapt our protocols into their environments. We are currently working with four suppliers, Denso ADC, creators of the QR Code; Andlor, supplying RMA management; Eurosoft supporting PC repair and refurbishing; and InforMission, providing tools for label creation and management.

We are at this time looking for companies to launch pilot projects that will enable us to refine and perfect our protocols. The benefit of volunteering for a pilot project is that our standard will become tailored to your needs rather than waiting and then perhaps having to modify your procedures to adapt to protocols established to meet someone else’s needs. Besides, it’s fun to get in on the ground floor of something new and exciting.

An example of our labeling protocol using 77 characters out of 4000 available:

Note: readers do not correctly format this code today. After it becomes a standard, this will change.
Ken Jacobsen is a semi-retired industry consultant who has specialized in setting industry standards. He currently serves as co-chair of the RLA Standards Committee.
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