The Digimarc Blog

How Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) is Transforming the Supply Chain

Digimarc CTO Tony Rodriguez was among a panel of experts who recently participated in a webinar titled “AIDC in the Supply Chain: Making ‘Things’ Work.” Co-sponsored by AIM and GS1 US, the full webinar recording is available through the GS1 US University (free account required).

The following segments are loosely-edited excerpts from the webinar in which Tony addressed a wide range of topics around the role of AIDC in a swiftly evolving supply chain:

Role of low-cost identifiers in driving supply chain optimizations

Digimarc has been focused on how you impart identity into objects, not only in the traditional sense of packaging, but also direct parts marking and in the plastic molds themselves. Those identifiers, whether it’s Digimarc Barcode or other overt symbols like QR Codes, 1D barcodes and the like, play a fundamental role in the supply chain because with relatively minimal investment they can be imparted across a wide variety of objects. Having that machine-readable symbology that carries GS1 standard identifiers creates that language and visibility that is really at the core of enabling this digital supply chain.

How low-cost data carriers such as Digimarc Barcode can help expand the Internet of Things (IoT) into more objects

Since the inception of IoT, the whole premise was that you would have objects that joined networks and provide additional information that could be observed through the supply chain. The distinction is that there is the identifier itself and then that discovery or capture phase that is so essential. The question remains: How do you optimize that discovery phase so that these identities can be quickly and seamlessly captured regardless of the environment? As you start to think about all the objects that surround us, it’s not just primary packaging or the label on the side of the shipping case, it’s everything from apparel to auto parts. Every single one of those can have and frankly should have a unique identity. That identity will facilitate objects moving through circular economies where the raw plastic materials that make up an item or package itself will basically be extracted and reused.

Facilitating engagement with everyday objects

It really comes down to how you facilitate the capture of this information and turn these mobile devices into intelligent platforms. What we’re focused on is making that as simple and straightforward as possible both in a manufacturing and consumer environment. There are technologies out there that perhaps get more attention than AIDC, like augmented reality, that can be very powerful. But how do you ensure that you have a very fluid experience that is built on deterministic identification? That’s the key differentiator. You will see some approaches that use a more probabilistic approach, but those have been shown repeatedly to be fraught with challenges and problems, especially when you get into creating very accurate and authentic experiences for consumers. One key point is that this need for creating engagement with everyday objects through AIDC technologies has really grown in the last four to five months with the arrival of COVID-19. What we’re seeing is enormous demand for consumers to engage directly with packages, whether in the form of in-aisle checkout or seeking product information, and those are all areas that are predicated on having very seamless and easy engagement.

Importance of globally unique identifiers and the role of GS1 standards

This is central to everything Digimarc does, especially with retailers and consumer brands around brand protection and anti-counterfeiting. The unique identifier is really the cornerstone for any optimized workflow or supply chain for assets of any particular value. That’s true whether you’re talking about advertising assets with their ad ID system that issues unique identifiers or you’re talking about the entertainment ID registry which provides unique IDs for all television programs and movies. GS1 is unique in that the scale of the standards and infrastructure around identifiers it provides is enormous; it truly is the backbone for business. This concept of unique IDs was a journey Digimarc started on about twenty years ago when we started issuing secure credentials on drivers’ licenses. More recently, as it relates to packaging, it was acquiring that company prefix through GS1 that allowed us to ensure that the identities we were providing through our platform were unique. That’s really the basis of the whole infrastructure.

AIDC for food safety and handling of recalls

The recent situation with romaine lettuce and other leafy greens and the costs associated with those recalls is unfortunately a relevant and painful example of why AIDC is so critical. That consumer experience all the way down to the individual package is so central. I’ll use the analogy of “the last mile.” There is an enormous amount of visibility throughout the supply chain that right now is being bottled up. By enabling fast and easy engagement with the package all the way down to the consumer, there is tremendous value that can be provided, particularly in the face of recalls.

Evolving role of AIDC in retail environments

We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the need to automate inventory in large grocery environments. What had been a challenge for quite some time has been planogram compliance and really understanding stock outs, having a very accurate inventory of what’s in the back of store or warehouse and what is actually on the shelves. That’s an area where AIDC has played a role historically, where we’ve seen sales associates going up and down the aisles scanning the shelf tags and then picking up each object to conduct an inventory count. Obviously, this is very labor intensive and prone to human error. That was already a known challenge, but when you pair with the rapid growth of curbside pickup and home delivery, suddenly the grocery store was playing a dual role as both a pleasant branded store and very efficient, accurately understood warehouse to facilitate picking. What’s happened now in that environment is the emergence of autonomous robots to handle some of that on-shelf availability; but you also these smart devices and the challenge of how do you arm associates to be able to very quickly and efficiently pick and pack for delivery and pickup orders, while not disturbing customers on the floor? A major focus of late for Digimarc has been on putting these unique identifiers on areas of the package whereby sales associates and robots can get a good inventory scan without having to “handle” the package.

Find out more about how the Digimarc Platform can help retailers and consumer brands become more efficient and responsive to changing consumer and operational challenges.

The above excerpts are taken from the recent AIM and GS1 US webinar, “AIDC in the Supply Chain: Making Things Work,” now available for on-demand viewing through the GS1 US University (free account required).

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