In 1974, IBM engineer George Laurer combined 12 digits and 30 parallel bars of varying widths and spaces to invent the universal product code (UPC). A few months later, the first UPC was scanned in an Ohio grocery store on a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum. (That scanner is now in the Smithsonian.)
Between 1976 and 1980, the number of stores using UPCs climbed from about 100 to more than 2,000. In the 1980s, retailers began to really embrace the potential of UPCs. Most notably, Walmart realized massive supply chain efficiencies by using the codes to automatically order products through its point-of-sale system.
Currently, the codes are scanned more than 6 billion times every day and are among the most trusted symbols in the world. During the past 40 years, very few other technologies have remained as relevant and increased in versatility as much as the UPC.
“They don’t get much attention, but bar codes are one of the most important inventions ever,” Marko Vrbnjak writes for the NiceLabel blog. “They have an incredibly important role in improving the way businesses capture and share information, as well as optimizing the movement of items along the supply chain.”
UPC technology plays a critical role in the smooth functioning of our global economy, helping businesses track inventory around the world. UPCs let retailers know when a product is about to become out-of-stock. They enable brands to communicate effectively with consumers by placing codes in advertisements to be scanned by smartphones. They safeguard patients by ensuring hospitals give medications to the right people and in the correct dosages.
And they do all of that with a 99.99% success rate.
See the coming trends
UPC architect Laurer passed away this month at 94, but he did see the UPC become a standard global identifier and packaging mainstay during his lifetime. Just last year, Laurer himself said he was still “amazed” and “in awe of” the invention, demonstrating how challenging it can be to appreciate the full impact of innovations and developments as they happen.
To help you stay on top of what’s transforming supply chain, ASCM’s Research, Innovation and Strategy (RISC) Sensing Subcommittee has identified the top 10 industry trends to watch in the coming year. They include the following:
- Advanced analytics and automation will support the shift to data-centric, automated decision-making. To prepare, companies must reskill their workforces and revamp data infrastructures.
- Ongoing supply chain risks will fuel the creation of tools and processes to help companies anticipate danger and develop mitigation strategies.
- Effective cybersecurity will be a prerequisite, as the explosion of data and data-driven organizations brings about new, interwoven areas of vulnerability.
- Consumer expectations, mainly involving e-commerce and shipping speeds, will continue to escalate.
- In the extremely tight labor market, finding, developing and retaining workers will remain a big challenge.
- Digital supply chain will infuse 2020, and industry professionals must ensure they have the right capabilities and plans in place.
- 3D Printing will be tapped for high-volume manufacturing, disrupting a growing list of industries.
- Consumers will demand that supply chains operate with a keen focus on the triple-bottom-line of people, planet and profit.
- The internet of things will move from the fringe to the mainstream, thanks to the increasing prevalence of inexpensive and reliable sensors.
- As new urban landscapes are created, the world will face never-before-seen supply chain challenges.
Learn more about how ASCM research is working to provide you with detailed insights into a variety of key topics, as well as practical advice to help you and your organization gain a true competitive advantage throughout the New Year.