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The EAN code turns 50 – conversion from linear barcode to 2D code

The barcode was created in 1973. Since then, GS1, best known for the barcode, has been a guarantor of efficiency in value chains. This simple but powerful symbol – the “beep” at the checkout – is today found on over 1 billion products around the world and has fundamentally revolutionized the way we shop. Now a new global barcode revolution is underway – the shift to 2D codes – with the capacity to capture a whole new level of data.

The pharmaceutical industry switched to 2D codes in 2019 and implemented the two-dimensional barcode Data Matrix for prescription drugs.

The 2D code contains the product code (GTIN) just as the EAN code did before, but the 2D code has the capacity to carry additional information about the drug package, such as the expiration date, batch of manufacture and a unique ID. The 2D code was chosen as the format as it requires very little space, which is good for pharmaceuticals, sometimes the information needs to fit on a small pharmaceutical ampoule.

In addition to the fact that the introduction of 2D code and e-verification has now built-up good protection for the legal drug supply, it gave an opportunity to introduce unique ID concepts for increased patient safety. Article identification could be improved and it becomes easier to document the manufacturing batch for biological drugs, which is also a legal requirement.

Pressrelease GS1 (in Swedish)