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Philip Morris Intl. Seeks to Make Serialized Bar Codes Work With EPC Network

The ability to use EPC infrastructure, the cigarette maker says, will help it stop illegal trade and ensure the authenticity of its brands.
By Beth Bacheldor
Oct 08, 2007Philip Morris International (PMI), an Altria Group division that sells tobacco products in all parts of the world except the United States, has designed track-and-trace and authentication systems using serialized, linear and 2-D bar codes designed to fight product counterfeiting and contraband.

The company hopes to extend these technologies so it can leverage the Electronic Product Code (EPC) network managed by EPCglobal, and plans to work with the nonprofit standards organization to make this goal a reality.

Brian Schulte
PMI manufactures 800 billion cigarettes a year, using 35 of its own factories and 23 factories operated by third parties. In Europe, it marks cases of its cigarettes with unique serialized ID numbers in the form of EAN-128 bar codes. Each bar code includes a GTIN 14 number, the product variant, the manufacturing date and time, the production center and a case packer number. PMI uses these numbers to track goods shipped from its manufacturing plants to distribution facilities and first customers.

Separately, PMI is rolling out a patent-pending, 2-D bar-code scheme called the Code Verification System (CVS), starting in Germany, Peru and the Ukraine. The CVS incorporates an encrypted, serialized 12-character number intended to identify and authenticate each pack and carton of cigarettes. Ultimately, PMI would like to converge the CVS with the EAN-128 bar codes, using the CVS code as the piece that provides the serialization.

Leveraging the EPCglobal network might strike some as unconventional, given that the network is essentially a standards-based collection of technologies and services created to enable companies to share data from RFID tags containing EPCs, not bar codes. The EPCglobal network contains several key elements, including the tag data standard, which defines standardized EPC tag data, including how it is encoded for use in the information systems layer of the network; the UHF Gen 2 air-interface standard; and software based on the EPC Information Services (EPCIS) protocol. EPCIS serves as the communication mechanism between applications and data repositories, from which a company can effectively exchange and query data within its own RFID processes and those of its partners. EPCIS-based middleware also automates the exchange of RFID data, because it allows for machine-to-machine communications.

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