How Does EPC Work, And Why Should You Care?

epcnumberWhat?

EPC is short for Electronic Product Code. Its standards are created and run by EPCGlobal, made up of the same people who created the Barcode standards. In fact, an EPC works a lot like a barcode, but is much more powerful.

An EPC is a number used to uniquely identify a specific product. Unlike with barcodes, two identical products sitting one behind the other on a store shelf can have two unique numbers. In other words, if a company manufactures 1,000 bottles of the same exact shampoo, for example, every bottle would have a different EPC number. These numbers can be associated with lots of different, specific information, such as when and where it was manufactured, and what store it’s headed to.

How?

An EPC is stored on a microchip that is attached to an antenna. The chip and antenna sit on a tag; more specifically, an RFID tag. The tag itself doesn’t hold any power, and the EPC doesn’t hold any information other than the unique number/letter combination. Because EPC tags are usually small, their antennas aren’t that strong. So an EPC will not transmit to an RFID reader until it is less than about 10 feed away.

When an RFID reader goes to read the tag, it sends just enough power to the tag to tell it to send the EPC number back to the reader. Once the reader receives that EPC number, it transfers that number to a computer or server that holds all the information about all of its EPC tags. This is where the information about the EPC-tagged item is stored, not on the tag itself. This helps tremendously with keeping an item’s information secure and safe.

Why?

EPC provides numerous benefits for both the consumer and for businesses. For businesses, EPC can help improve its supply chain visibility and efficiency. For the customer, this means better product availability, better quality assurance (help with monitoring the freshness of expiring food, for example), and speedier service (faster checkout, faster product returns). By providing better tracking possibilities, it can also help shield both manufacturers and consumers from fake merchandise and help with product recalls.

And finally, in a world where A) customers want that thing they want now, and B) businesses don’t want to sit on inventory, EPC allows retailers to more accurately keep track of their inventory, allowing them to more efficiently reorder products. It also helps them to always have what products their consumers want in stock.

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