International standards for AIDC behind key applications for diverse industries

Manufacturers and businesses use barcodes, quick response (QR) codes and radio frequency ID (RFID) tags to streamline different processes, such as inventory, manufacturing, maintenance, sales and safety, as well as provide more information about products and services.

Many industries use these automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) technologies to identify, track and trace items, for instance, logistics, apparel, automobile, healthcare, toll management, tourism and rail.

The list of applications is endless. Hospitals can quickly locate sterilized medical equipment ready for use and improve patient safety. Railway operators are able to guarantee network availability and enhance passenger safety using RFID solutions to monitor the rolling stock – locomotives, freight cars, flat cars, and other vehicles that use steel wheels on railroad tracks. Barcodes reduce customer lines at checkout points and RFID tags on clothing allow shops to keep detailed inventories in real time. Businesses provide more information about their products and services with QR codes which once scanned, lead to a website.

A mature technology with many new applications

IEC and ISO work together to produce international standards for information and communication technologies through their joint technical committee (ISO/IEC JTC 1). Henri Barthel chairs the work for AIDC (SC 31) and presented latest developments during the IEC Standardization Management Board (SMB) meeting for committees’ presentations at the end of 2020. Barthel was Vice President GS1 System Integrity and Global Partnerships until his retirement in July 2020. GS1 continues supporting him in his SC 31 Chair activity.

SC 31 activities cover data carriers (barcodes), data and structure, radio communications and the application of AIDC standards. Though some of the barcode technologies standardized by SC 31 have remained unchanged for the most part for five decades, new applications continue to emerge.

SC 31 develops standards for passive radio-frequency identification and sensor tags, which are key enablers for digital applications requiring the unique identification of items.

“Recent developments include standards for the rectangular DataMatrix, for use on very small medical instruments; QR Codes, for use on more narrow objects, a 2D colour barcode, which allows more data to be encrypted for the same size as a black and white one, performance and conformance standards, cryptographic security services for air interface communications, as well as application standards”, said Barthel.

AIDC is often the starting point of IoT applications. Barthel gave examples developed by SC 31:

  • ISO/IEC 15459, Information technology -- Automatic identification and data capture techniques -- Unique identification (series of standards)
  • ISO/IEC 29161, Information technology -- Data structure -- Unique identification for the Internet of Things
  • ISO/IEC 20248, Information technology -- Automatic identification and data capture techniques -- Data structures -- Digital signature meta structure

Q and A on the group’s activities

During the session, SMB members quizzed the presenters. Australian member, Kareen Riley-Takos, who is General Manager of Operations at Standards Australia, found out more about recent SC 31 activities.

Q: What do you think is the most interesting application for this technology?

A: Barcode scanning in retail where the estimate is two trillion barcode scans a year and 20 billion passive RFID tags are consumed as well. These technologies are being used in healthcare for scanning patients and all their information, and for drug administration. Another very interesting area is the use of RFID for inventory management of long duration human exploration missions on the International Space Station.

Q: In your view – and particularly for the work of SC 31, is the committee simply codifying what is already being done by industry or does the act of developing the standards itself also drive innovation?

A: It goes both ways. Some technologies have been codified by SC 31 based on existing industry standards. We have initiated other standards in SC 31, for example conformance and performance measurement standards.

Q: In a rapidly evolving market, what do you think are the most significant challenges in standards development today – and how can the SMB and IEC as a whole address these?

A: We need to share expertise between standardization committees rather than reinventing what is already available. We also need to make participation in standardization more attractive and promote achievements. Finally, we must align terminology and procedures as much as possible.

Q: SC 31 currently has 25 projects under its responsibility. How has it dealt with progressing the work during the pandemic? What worked, what didn’t and what kind of support would you need in the next few months to keep the group motivated and productive?

A: The pandemic has had no direct negative impact on work. The main thing missing is the possibility to meet face to face during the annual plenary. I believe motivation can be increased through recognition of achievements, by investing in communication and marketing.

“It was fascinating to learn about the critical work of SC 31 and its multiple applications in a vast number of industries. As the work of the SMB is focused on enablers for the standardization process, such as policies, procedures and overall management of the projects, the discussions with Henri provided a strong reminder of the importance and value of the work that the standardization community delivers, enabling innovation, safety and performance”, said Riley-Takos.

Find out more about SC 31 activities and how industries as diverse as air transport and tyre manufacturers are taking advantage of AIDC technologies.