Pallet labeling standards are hard to pin down because there isn’t a universal requirement that applies to all industries and markets. Regulations and requirements from governments mandate that some methodology for tracking must be applied to food and pharmaceuticals. The exact nature of that tracking, though, is left up to corporations or industry bodies to determine.
Ultimately, this means that there are a variety of pallet labeling standards. And while there is no universal standard across industries, or even within individual industries, there are commonalities across them. The most widespread of these commonalities in pallet labeling standards is the use of the barcode, which most likely adheres to standards set by Global Standard One (GS1).
GS1 is an international standards organization that manages serialized numbering schemes for commerce. Its origins date back to the 1973 decision by leaders in the U.S. grocery industry to adopt linear barcodes as a method of scanning serialized codes. Since then, they’ve opened offices in 110 countries and provide one of the most widespread data standards in the world.
Understanding Serial Shipping Container Codes (SSCC)
Pallets, cases (usually cardboard boxes), and air cargo containers are examples of what we call “logistic units.” According to GS1, “[A] logistic unit is an item of any composition established for transport and/or storage which needs to be managed through the supply chain.” These units can be anything from single boxes to large intermodal containers containing numerous pallets.
The technical name for the barcodes found on logistic units is serial shipping container codes (SSCC). A GS1 SSCC encodes a serialized number which consists of the following parts:
- Application Identifier: A prefix of 00 identifies the code as an SSCC.
- Extension Digit: A digit between 0 and 9 used to increase the number of unique combinations possible within the bounds of the SSCC.
- GS1 Company Prefix: A unique identifier issued by GS1 to the member company generating the SSCC.
- Serial Reference: The unique part of the identifier number specific to the logistic unit. It is generated when the logistic unit is packed, and the SSCC is generated as the label is being printed. It is generally, but not always, a sequentially generated number.
- Check Digit: A single digit that serves to check for input errors. This digit is calculated with a simple algorithm and helps verify the integrity and proper composition of the SSCC. Essentially, each number in the SSCC is multiplied by a 1 or 3 depending on its position in the SSCC. The resulting products are added together and the sum is subtracted from the next even multiple of 10; the result is the check digit.
An SSCC that complies with GS1 standards will display the number alongside a machine-readable method of encoding—usually a UPC (universal product code) barcode. GS1 also supports other scannable barcode matrices like QR codes or electronic product codes (EPC). Together, a GS1 compliant numeral and a barcode are at the center of most pallet labeling standards. In effect, they are a type of pallet license plate that provides a pallet with a unique identification that can be read across the supply chain. This identification can be checked against a table, allowing the contents of the pallet to be quickly and easily determined.
Inventory management and transactions across locations in the supply chain are made much easier as a result of these practices, so maintaining and improving barcode readability is a key pallet labeling best practice.
Other elements that are commonly found on pallet labels are the addresses of the shipper and receiver, store or distribution center numbers, identification information for the transportation company carrying the pallet, route number, or any number of other useful identifying and tracking information. However, it is the serialized identifier from GS1, or another standards body, that is critical. Ensuring that the barcode can be easily and quickly read by scanners is what allows this entire system to work.
Pallet Labeling Standards and Best Practices
Since the barcodes on pallet licenses must remain scannable by machines, including automated systems like automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) and depalletizers, these barcodes should be high contrast. Black ink on a white background allows optics to more easily decode barcodes in a variety of lighting environments; this contrast also helps people read information like the numerals below the barcode and/or shipping and receiving addresses.
Let’s look at a more comprehensive list of pallet labeling best practices:
1. Pallet labels should be unique and sequential.
The benefit of a pallet license plate is that its unique number serves as a unique identifier. However, it loses all of its benefits as an inventory and tracking mechanism if a number is mistakenly repeated across pallets. It is surprisingly common for numbers to be repeated due to issues or confusion in the printing or application of pallet labeling, which can cause a long list of problems.
2. Place at least two identical labels on sides of the pallet with opposing fork entry angles.
This ensures that pallet labels will still be visible if one side is obstructed by other pallets or the walls of a shipping container or warehouse. Three labels will help to ensure that pallets slotted into warehouse or distribution storage spaces have at least one labeled side visible.
3. Pallet labels should be placed vertically, with no more than a five-degree angle, and be free of creases or wrinkles.
Machine readability is key in pallet labeling. If a pallet label is placed at a sharp angle then machine readers may no longer be able to properly read it. To ensure scannability, it is a best practice to place pallet labels as close to vertical as possible. Pallet labels should also be free of creasing or wrinkles as these can distort the barcode and render them unreadable.
4. Pallet labels should be placed outside of plastic stretch wrap to ensure scannability.
Products are typically secured on pallets via the use of plastic stretch wrap. A layer of plastic between the pallet label and scanner can scatter lightwaves and render the barcode unscannable and the text on the label unreadable. In the majority of pallets that are shipped, the pallet labeling should be applied after they are wrapped to ensure these labels remain readable. However, pallet licenses are an exception to this guideline.
5. Pallet licenses should be placed inside of plastic stretch wrap when unwrapping precedes processing.
A rare exception to the previous point is when multiple pallets are stacked and shrink-wrapped together. When these pallets are unwrapped, any labels applied outside of the plastic wrapping will be removed before the pallets are processed into inventory. Pallet labeling best practices would be to apply labels to each pallet individually before they are wrapped and print an additional label to identify them when wrapped together. This allows them to be scanned and identified during transportation and identified during processing at their destination.
With all the different forms of human error that can occur in these processes, automatic label printers and applicators are the best solution. When properly set up, maintained, and positioned, they can perform this job with a remarkable degree of reliability.
Applying the Best Pallet Labels
InkJet, Inc. has decades of experience providing industrial printing solutions. These solutions conveniently include providing label printers and applicators to meet even the strictest pallet labeling standards.
The EvoLabel® is a print-and-apply labeler machine that simplifies the entire process of applying pallet labels. The EvoLabel is a simple, modular, self-contained design with a small footprint that can easily be installed anywhere on the production line. Label design can be done at the attached labeling station with the onboard software and touch screen.
Pallet labels can be easily modified to not only print clear SSCC identifiers or equivalent but also include additional pallet labeling standards required by your customer, all with minimal line interruption. EvoLabel is a straightforward and reliable option for the printing industry and regulation-compliant barcodes.
InkJet, Inc. backs EvoLabel with standard or custom inks in addition to decades of experience in industrial printer installation in just about any production environment. It is our pleasure to provide our customers with industry-leading support in the installation, setup, and operation of our printers.
To find out more about how InkJet, Inc. can help you comply with pallet labeling standards and improve your barcode readability and supply chain traceability, contact us online or call (800) 280-3245.