Data matrix barcodes, or 2D codes as they are also known, have been used in manufacturing industries as far back as 20 years. The purpose of the 2D code is to allow fast and accurate machine vision reading of information; pack contents, dates of manufacture / minimum durability, batch / lot number, GTIN, line number, factory location etc. The inclusion of 2D codes on to products and to packs are done so to verify that the right product goes into the right pack.
They are not to be confused with QR codes, which are similar looking but differ in that those contain a link to a web site, email or app.
Data matrix codes are used extensively in pharmaceutical packaging to ensure that medications are correctly labeled and to fight against counterfeit drugs from entering the supply chain. Recent legislation from the FDA in the US have also made 2D codes mandatory on all classified medical devices in order to protect patients safety and to increase traceability in the supply chain.
Food manufacturers have seen the benefits of printing 2D codes on to packaging from other industries like these. Expensive product recalls and loss of credibility, have made food manufacturers look to innovate ways to introduce quality controls to make sure what is printed on the pack (label, allergens etc) matches the product inside the pack.
For example in the case of making sure the correct product information is on a butter wrapper. The manufacturer prints the product information as well as a dynamic 2D code on to the pack (as shown above). The dynamic part of the code has been generated by the printer software to contain the text information. That information is contained within the 2D code. The manufacturer can then set up a barcode reader to verify that the 2D code matches the human readable text on the pack thus creating a double check scenario that verifies what is meant to be written on the pack is indeed physically there. This application insures no mislabeled information and additionally no misprints get into the supply chain. Genius!
Having 2D codes printed on food packs also opens the way for better food traceability but that is the subject of another blog post.