EPAL embarks on digitalizing the open EPAL pallet pool with the official introduction of the new EPAL Euro pallet QR – in circulation since 1 January 2024
The European Pallet Association introduced the optional EPAL Euro pallet QR on 1 January 2024 as a new open EPAL pallet pool product. The EPAL Euro pallet QR is marked on the right-hand corner blocks with a unique QR code. This application allows it to be easily integrated into digital processes in goods and pallet logistics. The new EPAL Euro pallet QR is now available to order from selected EPAL Euro pallet producers and can be used and exchanged in the open EPAL Euro pallet pool.
In November 2023, the EPAL Board initially indicated its decision to proceed with the EPAL Euro pallet QR initiative, as reported here. A QR code, or Quick Response code, is a two-dimensional barcode that can store information in a grid of tiny squares. It was initially developed in Japan for the automotive industry. QR codes are easily scannable using a smartphone camera, which makes them highly accessible for various applications.
Why a QR Code for Pallets?
Each individual EPAL Euro pallet QR is marked with an exclusive QR code on the two right-hand corner blocks and thus has a unique identity. Users can link the QR code to the goods on the pallet through their own IT systems or software developed by EPAL and retain complete transparency of the location of the goods and pallets.
“A unique QR code is generated for each new EPAL Euro pallet QR and printed on the right-hand corner blocks as part of the production process,” reiterated Dirk Hoferer, President of EPAL. “We decided on this sophisticated solution for marking using unique QR codes so that users can link the EPAL Euro pallet QR to their own data. This means the EPAL Euro pallet will, in future, be not just a load carrier, but also an information carrier.”
Supports Digitized, Resilient Supply Chains
It is essential that EPAL Euro pallets are always available in sufficient quantity and at the correct location so that EPAL users’ supply chains function flawlessly. The new EPAL Euro pallet QR facilitates easy, quick and location-specific capture of the pallets in stock and evaluation of data on quantity and quality. This means it is possible to ensure that EPAL Euro pallets are always available in operational pallet logistics in the correct quantity and necessary quality, irrespective of where the pallets are required in goods and transport logistics.
“There are many benefits to using EPAL pallets with a QR code in pallet logistics, added Davide Dellavalle, Vice-President of EPAL. “This can be seen in the labels which are still frequently used to mark pallets today and entail a great deal of cost, time and waste. In the future, users will be able to monitor and control pallet logistics using a new EPAL web app or their own warehouse management or ERP systems. Having access to real-time data optimizes both goods logistics and pallet logistics.”
EPAL QR Code Acts as a Digital Product Passport
In addition to using the QR code on EPAL Euro pallets to retrieve information on the pallet’s location and loading and the goods, it can also be used to supply information on the pallet. As well as data on pallet production, which improves security against counterfeiting; this specifically includes data on the material and recycling, exchange, and reuse. The QR code has been developed by EPAL as a digital product passport so that the new EPAL Euro pallet QR already complies with future legal requirements for a digital product passport.
“The QR code should contain all the important information on reuse, exchange, repair and recycling,” commented Dörre. “We therefore wanted to do more than just comply with future legal requirements for a digital product passport: we also wanted to improve the sustainability of the EPAL pallet pool and to support users of EPAL pallets in achieving their own sustainability targets.”
Other Benefits and Limitations of QR Code Technology
Generally speaking, QR codes are attractive for various reasons. They are typically cheaper to produce than RFID tags and can be printed on various materials using standard printers, whereas RFID tags require more specialized and costly production. They are also easy to use. QR codes can be scanned using smartphones and tablets, which are widely available and easy to use. This means no special hardware is required for scanning, unlike RFID, which requires dedicated RFID readers.
There are other benefits. Unlike barcodes, which require a direct line of sight for scanning, QR codes can be scanned from various angles, which adds to their convenience. QR codes can store more data compared to traditional barcodes, allowing for detailed information about the asset to be included. QR codes can be accessed and interpreted without an internet connection as long as the scanning device has a QR code reader.
However, it’s important to note that QR codes also have some limitations compared to RFID and other IoT technologies. For instance, RFID tags can be read from a distance and through materials like plastic or wood, which QR codes cannot. Also, RFID tags can be read simultaneously in large quantities, which is advantageous in certain asset-tracking scenarios.
The choice between QR codes, RFID, or other IoT technologies depends on the specific requirements of the asset tracking system, including factors like cost, range, environment, and the volume of items to be tracked.
The EPAL Euro pallet QR can be exchanged without limitation
The new EPAL Euro pallet QR can be freely exchanged within the open EPAL Euro pallet exchange pool. This ensures the EPAL Euro pallet QR can be used immediately in all logistics and exchange processes. Used EPAL Euro pallets with a QR code will be available in the future in exactly the same way as EPAL Euro pallets without a QR code and will be part of the established processes for sorting used EPAL Euro pallets in order to make used EPAL Euro pallets available to users in the quality they require.
“The new EPAL Euro pallet QR also offers new opportunities for suppliers of used EPAL pallets,” suggested Pascal Holliger, member of the EPAL Board. “Licensed EPAL repair operations and service providers can add sorting and provision of EPAL Euro pallets with QR code to their existing repair and service portfolio. This means users of used EPAL Euro pallets can also take advantage of the benefits digital EPAL Euro pallets QR have to offer.”
Innovation for the wooden packaging industry
Printing a QR code on wood-chip pallet blocks presented technical challenges. It starts with inkjet printing as part of pallet production, including generating the QR code in real time, and continues with the demands on the legibility and durability of the QR code. Originally a research project in cooperation with the Fraunhofer IML in 2018, the EPAL Innovation Lab has tried out many printing and production processes as part of its own product development and has made a decisive contribution to the development of expertise and new technical solutions, providing benefits to the entire wooden packaging industry. Many European companies and associations in the wooden packaging industry have already registered their interest in the results of EPAL’s developments.
“The development of printing QR codes on wooden pallets and wood-chip pallet blocks was only possible with the support of companies from many different sectors,” said Michael Brandt, Head of EPAL Innovation Lab. “We would like to thank the many companies who have contributed to developing the EPAL Euro pallet QR through their inexhaustible application, many ideas, and the will to innovate. We would particularly like to thank the pilot projects, including the producers of EPAL Euro pallets, suppliers of inkjet printing systems, hardware and software developers, and the producers of wood-chip EPAL pallet blocks.”
About the European Pallet Association
The European Pallet Association is an international, non-profit association that organizes the open EPAL Euro pallet pool. There are currently more than 650 million EPAL Euro pallets and approximately 20 million EPAL Box pallets in circulation, making the EPAL Euro pallet exchange pool the biggest open pallet exchange pool in the world. EPAL Euro pallets are the backbone of European industrial, retail and logistics supply chains.
EPAL was created in 1991 by the pallet associations, active since the 1960s, and has representation in more than 35 countries. Over 1,600 EPAL licensees produce and repair EPAL Euro pallets and other EPAL load carriers. More than 100 million new EPAL Euro pallets were produced in 2021 and 2022. More than 1.55 billion EPAL Euro pallets have been produced since 2000.
Strictly enforced standardization and the high quality of EPAL pallets have been the foundation of this success and the functional circular economy that is the open EPAL Euro pallet pool. EPAL’s comprehensive and independent quality assurance ensures the effective and safe use and exchange of EPAL pallets in every industrial, retail, and logistics supply chain. The EPAL trademark stands for quality, safety and sustainability in logistics.