February 2010: What's Going on with the PTI
There's been a lot of debate during the last month about whether PTI has ‘stalled'. However, there's actually been a great deal of progress if you look under the hood:
GTINs are getting assigned. GS1 has been steadily issuing new company prefixes, while many larger shippers realized they already had a GS1 number either associated with their UPC codes or Databar efforts, or simply acquired years ago for nothing. Companies are taking advantage of simple, free GTIN creation tools (such as the one we provide) to get GTIN assignments complete.
Companies are actively deploying PTI solutions. Dozens of shippers have deployed the HarvestMark PTI solution, in the US, Canada and Mexico – and discovered compliance wasn't as hard as they had feared. We know of others who were able to modify their existing case coding technology in house to print PTI-compliant data. PTI compliant cases are already showing up in distribution centers and brokerage warehouses.
Congress is still thinking. The rumor from the Hill is that back-room negotiations on the "Food Safety Enhancement Act" continue. FDA has been studying traceability (IFT presented its recommendations to the FDA, which were largely aligned with the PTI best practices, which we discussed in a previous edition of Traceability Insider). The Food Safety Enhancement Act is expected to pass with its traceability requirements intact. PMA and United Fresh have been consistently supportive of the PTI.
Retailers are working on methods to meet their milestones. Retailers have been studying tools and processes to implement PTI Milestones 6 and 7. While they have a year or two before compliance, several are already looking at how to adapt their warehouse management systems to support the program.
Having said that, it's not all plain sailing. Where are the roadblocks?
Field Packing. Applying PTI requirements to field-packed produce (10- 15% of production by volume) poses challenges in printing and labeling cases in the field. Adoption has been slower in this category due to the additional complexity, labor and equipment cost. However, some growers are using this as an opportunity to grab a bundle of in-field efficiency improvements, such as labor data collection, field input data collection, and product visibility at the same time as traceability. The HarvestMark team developed a field-pack solution that creates a platform for this kind of efficiency gain.
Assigning GTINs has some hidden complexities. There are some details that make assigning GTINs confusing and frustrating. Do different brands from the same shipper need different GTINs for the same item? Does a co-packer use their GS1 prefix or the customer's? How is a 1 1/9 bushel defined? How is organic distinguished from conventional product? Is it permissible to use packaging levels 2-8? What's the relationship between the GTIN on the Databar, and the GTIN for the case? The HarvestMark team is GS1 Certified and is here to help you work through these questions.
PTI Milestone 7 requires that handlers record every outbound case's GTIN and Lot Number (and date). The problem is, manually scanning outbound cases would create a significant increase in labor cost, equipment costs, and packing time at large distribution centers. As a result, some have feared that the retailers won't meet their obligations. In collaboration with major retailers we developed the VoiceCode™ method to completely eliminate the need to scan cases out.
The VoiceCode is a 4 digit algorithmic digest of the GTIN and Lot Code (and Date if required). The VoiceCode is printed on the label when the label is generated. When a pallet's received, the GTINs and Lot numbers (and dates) for cases on a pallet are loaded into the WMS either by EDI/ASN or by scanning the Hybrid Pallet Tag – per Milestone 6.
When picking cases from a mixed pallet the voice picking system used in the warehouse simply instructs the operator to look for the VoiceCode on the label, and/or get verbal confirmation of the cases selected. The 2 least significant digits of the VoiceCode are printed large, and are all that is required most of the time when dealing with a mixed pallet because of the low likelihood of a collision on a pallet (2 cases with different GTIN/Lot but the same VoiceCode). In the event that there is a collision on a pallet, all 4 digits are used. A mixed pallet with two different items will have a 1 in 10,000 chance of a collision at the 4 digit level.
The VoiceCode is superior to highlighting or using a few characters of the Lot Code, e.g. the last four, for three reasons. First, a Lot Code is high collision (different products could easily have the same last four characters), second, a Lot Code can include letters, which VoicePick systems can have problems understanding, and finally the Lot Code may not be date specific.
The VoiceCode doesn't replace the printed GTIN or Lot or barcode, it simply makes it easy to discriminate a case on a pallet. It doesn't reduce the accuracy or precision of data collected. Best of all, it doesn't add any cost. HarvestMark has patents pending on the method, and is providing the algorithms free of charge to the industry.
If you'd like to find out more about VoiceCode, and get a copy of the white paper, please contact us.