Edition 71
A New Standard Labeling Protocol for Reverse Logistics
by Kenneth Jacobsen, Vice President of Business Development, Connexus

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A New Standard Labeling Protocol for Reverse Logistics

For the past year or so, the Reverse Logistics Association Standards Committee has been working on a new product labeling protocol that will expedite Reverse Logistics processes for Repair, Returns and Recycling. We are releasing this standard at the RLA Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, NV February 9, 2015. Come by the booth and see a demonstration.

What is this new label?
The RLA Standards Committee has developed a protocol for the use of QR codes to encode information relevant for business processes related to reverse logistics. It is created to provide additional information to logistics professionals, consumers, field service personnel and recyclers. It is placed on the product so that the information is always available. It will provide information related to product repairs, including links to documentation; product returns, including links to warranty registration; and recycling, including information about hazardous content.

We are starting with a QR code format which has a capacity sufficient for the required data and is scanable by most smartphones worldwide. The protocol is actually technology agnostic and can be deployed with other scan-able systems such as RFID.

Bar codes are great for forward logistics but lack the data capacity to do much more. Also bar codes are most often disposed of with the packaging prior to re-entering the system. QR codes can present 4X the amount of data as a bar code. The committee has designed a protocol that will optimize the use of this scan-able label and is providing arbitrage for a global standard so that consumers, logistics professionals and recyclers can all access pertinent information.

Each manufacturer determines which fields of data are pertinent to their product. The manufacturer also has the option to make the information available to consumers, only to logistics professionals, or encrypted for internal data. The manufacturer selects the fields they choose to populate, design the code and print the label onto each product and optionally, product packaging. The RLA is working with vendors to assure that the labels are readable (scan-able) by free smart phone applications as well as by professional scanners.

The information conveyed to consumers could include: product model and serial numbers, links to product documentation, links to warranty registrations, links to product support or recycling (end-of-life management) information. If the label is printed onto the packaging, it could include links to pre-market sales support. The multi-field label could even include links to product videos.

Information conveyed to professionals or field service personnel could include product data sheets, product configuration information, hazardous materials, various standards compliance information and installation guides. A listing of hazardous materials would be most useful for the recycling industry, and we envision that eventually, geo-tagging will facilitate accurate disposal directions direct to consumer smart phones.

In each case, the label produced by this process will be readable by most professional scanners and by most smart phone scanning applications. The formatting of the data will require special code. The first field of the label will direct consumers to links to download a free app that correctly displays and formats the information. As the labels become more ubiquitous most scanners will be adapted.

How to Use Them
Each manufacturer must select from the listing of fields which fields they wish to include in the label. Some of these may be generic for all of their products—such as Company name or Company URL, or links to Product Registration or Extended Warranties. Others may be specific to each product such as a serial number or a link to the product documentation or an installation video.

It is assumed that the manufacturer has technology to print labels onto their products. It is assumed that the manufacturer has the technology to individually serialize products in synch with the labels. (If not, we can make some recommendations.) It is further assumed the manufacturer has the technology to generate the label (either as a QR code or other technology). There are no fees or royalties to manufacturers of hardware products to use the RL Labeling Codes.

The RLA is creating tools that will generate appropriate labels in camera ready format. These tools will enable manufacturers to create labels and proprietary fields that are continually synchronized and updated. The licensing of these tools is optional, but recommended. Contact tools@rla.org for further information.

Fair Use and Adding Fields
There is logical space for an infinite number of fields. We are beginning with about 60 defined fields. Specific industries will from time to time identify missing fields. There are also two manufacturer’s proprietary fields in the current standard. More will be provided if it is required. However, the RLA Standards Committee envisions this standard to be dynamic and is open to suggestions for fields that would be of general interest to industries or product groups, the fields should pertain to product repair, return or recycling though fields related to other aspect of a product life-cycle, including forward logistics are relevant. While the origin of this standard was the reverse logistics industry, we expect fields to be added to extend the usefulness of the label to other groups (e.g. forward logistics, sales and marketing, inventory, etc..)

The RL Label Code is copyrighted by the Reverse Logistics Association. We have established a process for modifying the fields that is open to any professional inputs. We retain the exclusive rights to modify or upgrade the list of fields.

It is deemed to be fair use for any manufacturer of hardware products of any nature to create labels that use our schema for their internal use on products that they produce or cause to be produced.

It is also considered to be fair use for any product refurbisher or system integrator to create a label using this schema that supplements or replaces and original manufacturers information, providing that any such secondary labeling be clearly distinguishable from the label of the original manufacturer and in no manner appear to deceive or misdirect.

It is not considered fair use to create a generalized tool to create labels using the RL Label schema that is marketed as a tool for creating labels.

Tools for Creating RL Codes
Producing labels that conform to the standard requires some technical discipline. The RLA has produced a tool to facilitate the process while assuring technical compliance with the standard. The RLA Label Generation Tool can be accessed via the internet using most browsers (e.g., Internet Explorer, Chrome, …). The tool produces custom labels for each product in camera ready format.

Preferences and defaults can be set to avoid repetitious entry of data on multiple labels, specify which fields the manufacturer always wishes to include, specify which fields the manufacturer usually wishes to include, specify default values (e.g. manufacturer’s name), etc.

The tool works by first providing a menu of potential fields. The manufacturer selects the fields desired and populates them with the product-related data. Since the amount of data that can be stored in a label is often restricted by the quality of printing and scanning devices, the tool also warns the manufacturer if their label needs to be printed in a larger size.

The manufacturer determines which fields are visible to consumers, which fields are visible to Professionals and which are proprietary and must be encrypted. Encrypted information requires a special version of the reader as well as a subscription to RLA’s Restricted Access Manager.

The RLA Label Generation Tool is licensed on an annual basis with full support and maintenance. There is a one time setup fee. Contact tools@rla.org for further information.

Tools for Reading Professional RL Codes
The RLA also provides three RL Code Readers. One for consumers, one for Logistics Professionals and one for organizations using Encrypted data. All will be available through Apple’s AppStore and Google Play. The consumer product is free. It is expected that other QR code readers that are available will add RLA Label Coding compatibility as the proliferation of RL Code Labels expand.

The RLA Professional Reader has special features that make it a valuable tool for all logistics, field service and recycling professionals. Manufacturers decide which fields will only be available to those using the Professional Reader. In addition, the Professional Reader may be customized to display selected fields while ignoring others. A receiving dock professional, for instance, may only be interested in -- the serial number.

Finally, for those organizations who wish to include encrypted data in labels, RLA offers the RLA Restricted Access Reader. The reader requires the user to register and establish a password. Access is only provided based on rules set by the manufacturer.

OEM versions of the code for the RLA Professional Reader and RLA Restricted Access Reader are available for porting to various scanners.

The RLA Committee
The RLA Standards Committee meets once a month using WebEx. Information about these meetings and sign up instructions are available at the RLA website. You do not have to be a member of the RLA to participate. Many people have contributed to the direction of this committee, but it is primarily the product of its three co-chairs, Ron Lembke University of Nevada Paul Rupnow Andlor Logistics Systems Inc. and Ken Jacobsen InforMission Systems, LLC. A complete listing of the fields with definitions as well as the full text of the standard is available on the RLA website.


RL00 Manufacturer Name
RL01 Product Name
RL02 Model Number
RL03 Product Data Sheet
RL04 Date of Manufacture
RL05 Product Serial Number
RL06 Product Configuration
RL07 Product Support
RL08 Product Documentation
RL09 Phone Product Support
RL0A Warranty Terms
RL0B Length of Warranty
RL0C Warranty Registration
RL0D Extended warranty
RL0E Presale support
RL0F Manufacturer Web site
RL10 Accessory Products
RL11 Contain Hazardous Material?
RL12 Contain user data?
RL13 Disposal instructions
RL14 Flammable?
RL15 Types of plastic
RL16 Types of metals
RL17 Types of batteries
RL18 Printer cartridge type
MP10 Manufact. Proprietary Encrypted
MP1A Manufact. Proprietary Encrypted
MP1B Manufact. Proprietary Encrypted
MP1C Manufact. Proprietary Encrypted
MP1D Manufact. Proprietary Encrypted
RL20 FCC Certification level
RL21 FDA Certification level
RL22 CE Certification
RL23 Product UID for RFID
RL24 UID Validation (for RFID)
RL25 Earth911
RL26 EPEAT Level
RL27 Energy Star Rating
RL28 Energy Consumption (CEA R7.8)
GS129 UPC Code
GS12A GTIN Trade Item Number
GS12B GTIN-8 Trade Item Number
GS12C GTIN-12 Trade Item Number
GS12D GTIN-13 Trade Item Number
GS12E GTIN-14 Trade Item Number
GS12F GLN Global Location Number
GS130 GSCC Logistics Units
GS131 GSIN Grouping of Logitics Units
GS132 GINC Grouping of Logistic Units
GS133 GIAI Individual Asssets
GS134 GRAI Returnable Assets
GS135 GSRN Service Relationships
GS136 GDTI Document Types
GS137 GCN Coupons
GS138 GPID Component and Parts
RL39 Ideal Storage Temp Range
RL3A Refurbished Product Serial Number
RL3B Stored Original Serial Number

Examples Uses for Reverse Logistics QR codes
A data label would be created and attached to the product at the time a product is manufactured. Today’s labels can contain much more information than a simple bar code, for example a QR code can contain as much as 4000 characters. The use of these labels will enable not only product information like a simple bar code or serial number, but it can also include information to help a consumer find help and support or disposition or recycling information long after the product packaging has been discarded. Below are some examples of how the fields from the Reverse Logistics standards could be helpful after the product leaves the retail shelves.

1. Warranty and support help - part number, serial number, manufacturer, warranty period, warranty support link, extended warranty link
2. End of Life - part number, manufacturer, recycle support link, materials list, hazardous materials, disposal instructions, even if the manufacturer is no longer in business
3. Create a Retail Return RMA to Retailer (to complement omni-channel service) - scan QR code, scan Retailer receipt
4. Create a warranty RMA to manufacturer - scan code for warranty data, item, serial number
5. Register the product for warranty

Retailer Processing
1. at Retail display - QR code can help consumer with purchase data or support data or warranty data or extended warranty data or even recycle requirements (am i buying green?)
2. at Returns counter - items that should be in the box

Reverse Logistics Returns Processing
1. Basic - Part Number or UPC code, serial number (2 codes in one scan)
2. Warranty entitlement - Part number, manufacturer, serial number, manufacture date (help with warranty validation), location of manufacturing (country of origin)
3. Configuration info - part number, serial number, configuration (2 TB Hard drive, 16 GB RAM)
4. Included parts - printer cartridge, cables, power supply

1. Support - links to a web support URL
2. Warranty - warranty period, product manufacture date, links to web support URL
3. Extended Warranty - links to web information to obtain extended warranty
4. Product identification - product/model numbers, UPC code, serial numbers (s) all in one scan code
Mr. Jacobsen is the Vice President of Business Development for Connexus: a silicon valley software startup focused on warranty management. He was responsible for the creation of the InfraRed Data Association (IrDA) and for the establishment of the PCMCIA. He has provided technology brokering services for HP, Toshiba, and Lockheed. He was part of the Pocket Intelligence Program at SRI, International and has been involved in numerous startups. Most recently, he was a Director of the Global Software Entrepreneurial Training Program at Oulu University in Finland.

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