Oct 12, 2014The Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) standard is designed to give companies visibility into the whereabouts of an RFID-tagged object in the supply chain. A finished product, for example, can be tracked from manufacture to point of sale. Each time the tagged product is read—during packing, shipping, receiving, stocking and other business steps—it generates an EPCIS event, creating a complete electronic record of its life cycle.
But what happens when you also want to track the raw materials used in that finished product? Each tagged part has a unique identifier, and the finished product has a different identifier. To enable companies to connect the history of raw materials to the history of finished products, a new type of EPCIS event that can track relationships has been needed.
EPCIS 1.1, ratified by GS1 in June, provides this. The new version of the standard includes a data structure called a "transformation event"—it captures the relationship between a list of input objects (each carrying a unique identifier) consumed in a process and a list of produced output objects.
A cattle supply chain in Sweden is using this new capability in a food traceability application. At the farm, each animal has an RFID tag with a unique identifier. At the slaughterhouse, the animal's ID is attached to its carcass. Then, at the cutting plant, where many carcasses may be ground and combined to form a variety of hamburger and other products, an EPCIS transformation event links all the animal IDs to the Serialized Global Trade Item Numbers (SGTINs) assigned to each package of finished product.
It is now possible for retailers to trace the finished products all the way back to the farms where the animals were raised. EPCIS events captured at the farm, slaughterhouse and cutting plant provide a historical record of the animals' daily feedings, which animals were combined at the plant, on what days they were processed and so on. Based on this data, retailers, for example, could assure consumers that their beef is organic. The application also improves product recall management. All meat items in a contaminated batch of hamburger could be quickly traced back to specific farms, then the relevant information could be forwarded to stores, where only the packages that contain contaminated meat would have to be pulled from shelves.
The EPCIS 1.1 transformation event feature will prove useful in many other industries as well. Chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers, for example, will be able to use it to track raw materials to finished products to comply with government safety mandates. Similarly, automotive and electronics manufacturers can use the feature to assure end users that their products contain no counterfeit parts.
Ken Traub is the founder of Ken Traub Consulting, a Mass.-based firm providing services to companies that rely on advanced software technology to run their businesses. Send your software questions to email@example.com.