GTIN: Creating Barcode Standards

GTIN is a barcode symbology standard and it stands for Global Trade Identification Number. This is the number that uniquely identifies a product. The Uniform Code Council (UCC) and the European Article Numbering (EAN) Association have merged and are known know as GS1. GS1 Created the GTIN standard. The UCC and EAN organizations have been creating barcodes for products for over 30 years. The most common barcode in the USA is the 12-digit UPC (Universal Product Code); it’s on the back of most products. In Europe a similar 13-digit barcode known as EAN – European Article Number exists.

GS1 faced challenges with their existing 12-digit UPC barcode and the 13-digit EAN. Manufacturers used the same (12-digit UPC or 13-digit EAN) barcode to identify individual items at the item level and the inner packaging level and outer-packaging level. When items are scanned into the computer system, there is sometimes confusion in regards to which item level is being scanned.

Sometimes manufacturers may decide to re-use the UPC/EAN code for a product that is discontinued, again causing potential confusion if product catalogs are not properly updated. European manufacturers that want to sell in North America had to obtain a Uniform Code Council-based number. Also, there is worry that the GS1 might run out of UPC codes.

The GS1 standards group developed the 14-digit GTIN barcode symbology format to tackle these challenges. The main goal is to standardize the tagging of products in North America and Europe.

With GTIN the same item can be scanned in Canada, USA, or in Europe. The GTIN makes each item unique at every packaging level (e.g. item level, inner-pack, outer-pack, carton, pallet). The 14-digit barcode symbology covers the existing UPC-12 Barcode and the EAN-13 digit barcode (and others e.g. EAN/UCC-8). This means barcodes do not have to be re-printed.

There is an initiative known as the 2005 Sunrise initiative (started in 1997) and its purpose further defines details and mandates about standardizing barcodes in U.S., Canada in Europe using GTIN. The initiative specifically stated that by January, 2005 manufacturers in Europe will not be issued North American UPC Codes, and all new products outside of North America must use the EAN symbologies. Basically this forces United States retailers to be able to accept EAN barcodes, which are now under the GTIN umbrella. By 2005 American retailers had to upgrade their scanners to be able to read the EAN-13 code.

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