QR Codes: Relevance in the Supply Chain?

So, just what are QR codes and why are they so popular?  First, a little background.  QR stands for “quick response” and the technology was created in 1994 by Denso Corporation.  Denso is currently the largest automotive parts supplier for Toyota Motor Corp.  Toyota utilized QR codes to track vehicles as they moved through the manufacturing process.  QR codes are two-dimensional which means that information can be stored along both the horizontal and the vertical whereas typical bar codes can only store information in a linear format. Therefore, more information can be stored utilizing the QR code 2-D symbology.  There are several QR code generators that can be found online, many of which are free to use.  Subsequently, there are many QR code readers to choose from in the various app stores such as the Android Market, the Apple App Store, or the Blackberry App World that are also free.  However, it is important to note that there are varying degrees of quality in both readers and generators so make sure to test several before making a decision.  I currently use Google Goggles as my QR code reader and Kimtag as my QR code generator.

QR codes are especially prevalent as a form of marketing outreach and can be found inside magazines, store catalogs, in-store collateral or even directly on the product itself.  They usually direct a consumer to a specific URL such as a website, product reviews, blog or other social media outlet.  From there, consumers can be incentivized via a coupon or some other discount (preferably in-store) to  “like” their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their blog etc.  If used properly, QR codes should enhance the consumer experience by providing them with additional information or savings that would not otherwise be available anywhere else.

What are some supply chain uses for this technology?  In a manufacturing environment, QR codes could be used in place of traveler documents.  APICS defines a traveler as ” a copy of the manufacturing order that actually moves with the work through the shop.”  For example, a QR code containing information such as assembly instructions could be attached as a label to the item and pulled up on a mobile device such as a tablet or a smartphone.  This would minimize or eliminate the amount of paperwork required to travel with the order which is subject to loss or obsolescence.  QR codes can enable information to be updated dynamically.  For example, modifications to assembly instructions can be updated via the QR code so that workers on the shop floor have the most up-to-date information.  This prevents workers from having to reprint new instructions or improperly assembling the item.

From an inventory control perspective, a QR code attached to an item could provide that item’s attributes such as item number, item description, case pack, color, size, shape, palletization information (i.e Ti-Hi, case dimensions, weight), vendor information, current inventory count and other attributes.

As you know, technological advances occur at a furious pace.  There are many experts who claim that current QR codes are becoming obsolete given the advent of newer, more customizable 2-D symbology. Microsoft Tag, SnapTag, image recognition and NFC (near field communication) are all technologies that that are currently looking to improve upon the current technology.  The knock on current QR codes is that there are design limitations, although minor customization can be done. (click here for examples) However, due to their simplistic design and multitude of uses, the current QR code will be relevant for quite sometime as a powerful AIDC technology tool.

Got any ideas for how QR codes can be used to better the supply chain?  Your comments are appreciated!

5 Comments

  1. Reply

    Really interesting post. I wonder if the open technical standard of the web could trump other proprietary protocols for communicating digitally throughout the supply chain due to concerns about interoperability.

  2. Reply

    Hi, 

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  3. Kav Nico

    Reply

    Unlike the older, one-dimensional barcode that was designed to be
    mechanically scanned by a narrow beam of light, a QR code is detected by
    a 2-dimensional digital image sensor and then digitally analyzed by a programmed processor. The processor
    locates the three distinctive squares at the corners of the QR code
    image, using a smaller square (or multiple squares) near the fourth
    corner to normalize the image for size, orientation, and angle of
    viewing. The small dots throughout the QR code are then converted to
    binary numbers and validated with an error-correcting code.

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