Serialization – A Powerful Concept


Hmm, serialization sounds a simple concept. What does it mean? To find an answer for this, I turned to the only source that counts, The Oxford English Dictionary (well, the online version anyway). This is what I found…

Interesting; I’ve always thought of serialization in terms of sequences of numbers, and we are not going to publish a play in installments or compose any music so we’ll stick with Number 2: Arrange (something) in a series.

This is an incredibly powerful concept for being able to identify and keep track of stuff – the fundamental building block of much of what we take for granted and it is interesting how serialization has developed over recent years…

 Serialization Evolves

Serialization - Winco ID

Printed Serial Number

Items having serial numbers is nothing new of course. This morning I went on a serial number hunt in the office and found this one on one of the older pieces of equipment we use – a re-winder for our label printers.

Pretty basic stuff, right? The manufacturer clearly assigns a serial number to each item made so that they can keep it in a log. If we had sent the item back for repair, they’d have been able to look it up and decide whether or not it was still under warranty or if they could send us a big repair bill.

This is all very well when dealing with a small number of products, but what if the company made thousands of devices a day – how would they keep track of all the items then?

The answer of course is to use the good old barcode.

Laptop Serial

Lenovo Serial Label

This Lenovo laptop that I use at the office might well be the slowest such device of all time, but it does, at least, have the serial number barcoded.

This would allow the company to scan the serial number as the item was being packaged and also to quickly scan the again if the computer is returned to a service depot for service.

Assuming that the serial number is used as a lookup key in Lenovo’s database, all the details of the product can be quickly found from one simple barcode scan.

This is all very well when used with the Lenovo infrastructure but of course, the serial number is useless to anyone else. To get over this problem, a lot of organizations re-serialize items using their own sequence of numbers.

Asset tags barcode RFID

Barcode and RFID Asset Tags

This idea is very common for identifying assets. Here at the WincoPlex, we assign an asset ID number to all of our IT assets, such as the one here that is on a desktop laser printer. The other tags in the photo are RFID asset tags that provide an alternative way to locate assets for some of our clients.

Adding our own serial numbers to the assets works fine for us since there is never a need for anyone outside of Winco ID to be able to identify these items.

When it gets more difficult is when there is a need to identify items outside of a single organization. In those cases, there need to be rules (or standards) in place that will ensure the uniqueness of the numbering system – let’s have a look at a couple of these…

SSCC – Serial Shipping Container Code

The SSCC is one of the many serialization standards from GS1 (the organization formed from the old UPC and EAN). SSCC is used to identify and track individual shipping containers, using the data encoded in the SSCC barcode.

SSCC Barcode Info

Data in an SSCC Barcode

The key to the SSCC – indeed all the GS1 concepts – is that each company using the system is assigned a GS1 company prefix number.

When a company needs to print an SSCC barcode, they use their GS1 prefix and combine it with a unique sequential number. This ensures that no other entity can produce that same number – a license plate for the package.

Department of Defense Labeling

The US department of Defense has been making a big effort to reduce cost and improve efficiency by beefing up its inventory control and doing a better job at managing its enormous supply chains.

UID Label Data

Data in UID Mark

One aspect of this is the MIL-STD-130 UID marking program. To be able to control items owned by the military during the complete life-cycle, contractors are being asked to fix permanent license plate barcodes (using the Datamatrix barcode format) onto all kinds of products.

The layout in the screenshot shows the data that goes into a UID mark – well, one of the possibilities anyway; several versions are allowed.

The data fields are the contractor’s cagecode (a unique ID for each contractor), and the part number and serial numbers of the product.

For this particular example, once all the formatting has been stripped out, an embedded license plate number would be produced for the item – know by the acronym IUII – Individual Unique Item Identifier. The IUII for this item would be D0ZPZ39102-0000-01A00546Y. This unique license plate number stays with the item for as long as it is owned by DoD and is a database lookup key (the DoD has a database called the UID Registry where all the data on UID items is stored) to access a huge amount of data on the item.

Healthcare Serialization

Serialization is also the concept behind the FDA’s UDI (Unique Device Identification) program for medical devices and the new pharmaceutical rules in the Federal Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) that call for product packaging to be serialized.

Brand Protection

Owners of brands are coming under serious threat with the amount of counterfeit and diverted items that are entering the supply chain.

All kinds of clever labeling and packaging concepts have been developed in recent years, without really solving the problem – no matter how many covert and overt features are added to labels, these can be reproduced by sophisticated counterfeiters.

Did you know that serialization can also play a role in deterring counterfeiting and product diversion?

Valmarc - datamatrix codes for brand protectionOur friends at Valmarc Corp. for example have used serialization to build a new concept for making life difficult for counterfeiters and allowing brand owners to connect with their legitimate customers. The Valmarc system is built around uniquely encoded Datamatrix barcodes (the founders of Valmarc have a long history with these codes and were instrumental in helping build the DoD UID program) and is right up to date, using mobile apps that run on smartphones.

Very clever stuff and I can see a combination of Valmarc’s concept and anti-counterfeit labels being a great way to help protect brands.

I continue to be impressed by just what can be achieved by “arranging (something) in a series”

What clever uses for serialization do you use in your organization? Do you have any ideas we can help you bring to fruition? Here at ID Technology, we can add serialization to just about any type of product.

Want to get started serializing your products, or meet compliance deadlines? Call ID Technology  toll free at: 888-438-3242 Option#3 You can contact me directly at We’ll get you in touch with one of our ID Technology specialists, right in your area.

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