E-Labeling on the Rise: Effective Workflows Needed
by Liam Conlin, on November 12, 2019
Across industries and regions, companies have been embracing e-labeling, whether because they are mandated by law or simply looking for a more effective way to more effectively provide increasing amounts of required product information, as well as to more easily update that information - not to mention potential cost savings. If your organization is planning to switch to an e-label model in the months ahead, or if you've already made the change and need to improve the oversight of the process, you should focus on increasing the effectiveness of your Enterprise Labeling Solutions.
Taking steps toward a new labeling methodology, complete with a database of digital information and constant centralized updates to product information, is only useful if you are able to effectively track and update the related information. Updates to this new status quo should always be accompanied by strong back-end processes.
What is E-Labeling?
Before you go to work on implementing or improving an e-labeling project, you should be clear on what the term entails. An e-label consists of digital information stored online, along with a physical label on a product which helps users access the data. E-labels are not all the same. Digital Europe, describing e-labels in the electronics industry, pointed out that some devices list website links for users to type in, while others have scannable barcodes or Quick Response codes. In the digital devices sector, there is a third option, too - products can list information about themselves on their screens, foregoing labels entirely.
"E-labeling has solidified its place in the pharma industry and beyond."
There are potential drawbacks to switching entirely to e-labeling systems, which may have held the technology back in some industries over the years. For instance, when the Food and Drug Administration first announced its regulations around e-labeling for pharmaceuticals, companies and lawmakers raised concern that the new labels may be less accessible than the simple printed Information For Use (IFU) sheets they were replacing. Regulatory Focus reported that some of these worries involved buyers of medication living in rural areas with poor internet connectivity.
In the years since that rule was introduced, however, e-labeling has solidified its place in the pharma industry and beyond. In a move that was somewhat controversial, Congress allowed companies to present non-genetically modified food information via QR code-enabled e-labels instead of simple written disclosure. The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences noted that, as of now, many consumers who encounter QR codes on products do not necessarily scan them. This may change in the years ahead, as people become more familiar with the concept of e-labels and accustomed to checking them.
Companies involved in food production can also use barcodes or QR codes for more than simple disclosure of GMO or non-GMO status. Manufacturers with effective tracking throughout their supply chains, from the farm to buyers' tables, will be able to share this last-mile data via their labels. When the company itself needs to learn the data, for instance to quickly perform a recall with minimal effect to non-impacted products, the e-labels can prove essential for this purpose as well.
For that evolution in perspective to occur, legislators and regulatory bodies across verticals will have to keep embracing barcodes, QR codes, web links and other forms of enablement. This process is underway, with plenty of organizations coming around to the capabilities e-labels can provide when used correctly and managed effectively.
Why Has E-Labeling Become So Popular?
When business groups and and lawmakers recommend that industries switch to e-label standards in place of their legacy informational disclosure labels, they often cite many advantages of the new format. These are similar across sectors, with slight differences based on the types of product in question and the exact form the electronic labels will take.
For example, Digital Europe pointed out that stakeholder arguments for tech device manufacturing's embrace of e-labels have potential benefits that range from practical concerns to environmental imperatives. Electronic products have become increasingly complex in recent years, which would mandate large amounts of compliance information. Putting that data on a traditional label may be impractical if the device in question is small. Furthermore, the variety of potentially duplicated icons and marks on these labels may prove confusing to consumers, and making a large label for every product means potentially generating more waste.
PharmTech listed some of the advantages in the biopharmaceutical sector for e-labeling. Since patient safety may depend on having accurate information and warnings about the medications they are taking, manufacturers' persistent online data repositories represent a great way to get updated facts out to the public. Furthermore, the review and approval processes that go into working with updates to physical information sheets are streamlined when the content is stored digitally and the physical label simply presents a way to access that site.
Pharma providers and the FDA pushed for the new labeling rules for these reasons, as well as the fact that the revised process represents savings for drug manufacturers. The combined costs of printing physical information sheets and slowing down manufacturing during lengthy compliance review processes amounted to millions of dollars annually. Especially when considering costs for stock, storage and potential waste if it's necessary to make a change to and existing information sheet.
How to Ensure Reliable E-Labeling Processes?
Creating e-labeling processes that will meet regulatory requirements and improve your own operations means updating a variety of internal systems. When it's time to add e-label elements such as QR codes or barcodes to your products' packages for the first time, you should work with a centralized artwork management solution integrated with an online digital asset management system. With such high-visibility editing workflows in place, making changes for compliance reasons is easy and painless, even when you must make multiple versions to oblige regulatory authorities across regions.
Also, when it's time to print e-labels in industries such as food or pharmaceuticals, modern Enterprise Labeling Solutions are essential. These systems enable you to create close integration between your enterprise resource management applications and the digital links included on the labels themselves. The improved traceability enabled by such integration may prove especially important in the years ahead, as e-labeling goes beyond its current scope to encompass visibility into the movement of specific items.
E-labeling is an increasing presence across industries, and these systems can deliver efficiency and increased depth of information when implemented correctly. When it's time for your business to make the jump, you should ensure your back-end systems are up to the challenge.