What is an Electronic Product Code? – A Complete Explanation 

What is an Electronic Product Code

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Electronic Product Code, abbreviated as EPC, represents a significant advancement in the identification and tracking of goods worldwide. This system, crucial for supply chain management, enables the unique identification of each item beyond the conventional Universal Product Code (UPC) and European Article Number (EAN)

EPC is widely used across industries for inventory management, counterfeit prevention, and enhancing the efficiency of logistics operations. It operates through Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, allowing for non-contact code reading, thus streamlining the tracking process from production to point of sale.  

This article delves into the intricacies of EPCs, exploring their definition, structure, operation, and the manifold benefits they bring to supply chain management and beyond

What are Electronic Product Codes?

What are Electronic Product Codes

Electronic Product Codes are unique identifiers assigned to physical objects, unit loads, or any identifiable entity involved in business operations. Their core purpose is to facilitate the tracking and management of products through Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology across various stages of the supply chain. 

EPCs were created and developed under GS1, a leading global standards organisation. They were designed to overcome the limitations of traditional barcodes by providing a unique identity to every physical object worldwide. Thus, EPCs enable more efficient inventory management, asset tracking and supply chain operations.

The inception of EPCs traces back to efforts to create a universal standard for product identification that could surpass the capabilities of existing barcode technology. This initiative led to the establishment of the EPCglobal Network, an architecture of open standards developed by the GS1 EPCglobal community, aimed at harnessing the power of RFID technology in global commerce.

EPCs represent a significant advancement in the field of automatic identification and data capture (AIDC). It offers a flexible framework that supports various coding schemes and integrates seamlessly with the GS1 standards system. 

What is an EPC Tag?

Definition of EPC Tag

An EPC tag is a digital representation of the Electronic Product Code encapsulated in a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag. These tags comprise an antenna and a microchip, where the EPC is stored. The primary function of an EPC tag is to store data about the object to which it is attached, facilitating real-time tracking and management throughout the object’s lifecycle in the supply chain.

The relationship between EPC tags and RFID technology is foundational. RFID serves as the medium through which EPCs are read and transmitted. Unlike traditional barcode systems that require line-of-sight scanning, RFID technology captures data from EPC tags wirelessly and without direct line-of-sight, enabling the reading of multiple tags simultaneously at varying distances.

Structure of an Electronic Product Code

The Electronic Product Code is meticulously structured to ensure each physical object receives a unique identifier, enabling precise tracking and identification in a global context. 

The EPC comprises four key components: the Header, EPC Manager Number, Object Class, and Serial Number.

  1. Header: This component specifies the length, type, structure, version, and generation of the EPC. It acts as an introductory marker for the RFID reader to interpret the rest of the code accurately.
  2. EPC Manager Number: Often linked to the manufacturer or the entity responsible for the item, this part of the EPC delineates who has the authority over the encoding of the EPCs associated with an item. It is a critical link back to the organisation managing the item’s data.
  3. Object Class: This segment of the EPC identifies the category or class to which the item belongs, providing a broader classification that aids in the sorting and grouping similar items within inventory systems.
  4. Serial Number: The serial number grants uniqueness to each tag by assigning a distinct identifier to every individual item, even among items of the same object class. This allows for the tracking and management of items at an individual level, ensuring precise identification throughout the supply chain. Serial numbers are frequently mistaken for SKUs; refer to our article SKU vs Serial Numbers for clarification.  

These EPC components work together to form a comprehensive identification system. 

The Header and EPC Manager Number establish the categorisation framework, while the Object Class and Serial Number specify the exact item and its unique identity. 

This structured approach enables businesses to track products with unparalleled precision, from manufacturing through to the end consumer, facilitating a transparent and efficient supply chain. 

How Does the Electronic Product Code Work?

The Electronic Product Code operates through a systematic process involving tag creation, data encoding, and information retrieval facilitated by RFID technology. Here is a step-by-step process on how EPC work. 


  1. Tag Creation and Encoding: An EPC is generated using the structured format comprising the header, EPC manager number, object class, and serial number. This code is then digitally encoded onto an RFID tag. The encoding process ensures that each item receives a unique identifier, which is critical for individual tracking and management.
  2. Data Capture: RFID readers are strategically placed throughout the supply chain to interact with EPC tags. Unlike barcode scanners, these readers do not require direct line-of-sight to the tags. They emit radio waves communicating with the tags, prompting them to transmit their stored EPC data back to the reader.
  3. Information Retrieval and Utilization: The EPC data is transmitted to a central database or inventory management system once captured. This information can be used to track the item’s location in real time, manage inventory levels, verify authenticity, and facilitate automated transactions and updates throughout the supply chain.


The seamless interaction between EPC tags and RFID readers exemplifies the efficiency of EPC technology. 

Benefits of Electronic Product Codes

Four benefits of EPC

Integrating Electronic Product Codes into supply chain and inventory management systems offers numerous benefits and enhances operational efficiency and strategic decision-making. 

Let’s take a look at the advantages of Electronic Product Codes.  

  1. Improved Inventory Accuracy: EPCs in inventory tags enable precise tracking of products throughout the supply chain, significantly reducing discrepancies between physical inventory and inventory records. This accuracy prevents stockouts and overstocking, optimising inventory levels and reducing associated costs.
  2. Enhanced Supply Chain Visibility: With EPCs, businesses gain real-time visibility into the movement and status of goods, from manufacturing through to delivery. This visibility facilitates better planning, allows for timely intervention in case of discrepancies, and enhances the ability to meet consumer demands more efficiently.
  3. Anti-Counterfeiting Measures: EPCs provide a secure, tamper-evident method for authenticating products. The unique identifier makes it difficult for counterfeit goods to replicate, thereby protecting brand integrity and consumer trust.
  4. Operational Efficiency: Automating tracking and identification processes enabled by EPC reduces the need for manual interventions, thereby streamlining operations. This efficiency leads to faster processing times, reduced labour costs, and improved throughput in supply chain operations.

The cumulative impact of these benefits underscores the transformative potential of EPC technology. By adopting EPCs, businesses refine their internal operations and contribute to a more resilient, responsive, and transparent supply chain ecosystem.

Where are EPCs Used?

Five places where EPC is used

Electronic Product Codes are used across various industries and applications, demonstrating their versatility and the value they bring to different sectors. EPC technology is used in retail, healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing, among others, each benefiting from improved tracking, authentication, and data management capabilities.

  1. Retail: In the retail industry, EPCs are used for inventory management, ensuring the right products are available at the right time. They facilitate efficient checkout processes, reduce shrinkage, and improve customer experience by ensuring product availability.
  2. Healthcare: EPCs contribute significantly to patient safety and operational efficiency in healthcare. They track medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and supplies, ensure authenticity, manage expiration dates, and automate restocking processes.
  3. Logistics and Supply Chain: In logistics, EPCs optimise the movement of goods through supply chains, providing visibility into the location and status of items in transit. This visibility helps reduce transit times, improve delivery accuracy, and enhance security.
  4. Manufacturing: Manufacturers use EPCs for asset tracking, inventory management, and production process control. They facilitate the traceability of components, streamline operations, and support compliance with regulatory requirements.
  5. Aerospace and Defense: In these sectors, EPCs are crucial for asset management, parts tracking, and ensuring the traceability of critical components, contributing to safety, efficiency, and security.


Electronic Product Codes (EPCs) represent a significant advancement in managing inventory and streamlining supply chains. They offer a precise and efficient method for tracking products globally.

The utilisation of EPC technology enhances operational efficiency, boosts supply chain visibility, and safeguards against counterfeiting, providing substantial benefits across various industries, including retail, healthcare, and logistics. Implementing EPCs enables businesses to navigate the complexities of modern commerce with greater accuracy and reliability.

We hope this article has equipped you with valuable insights into the importance and application of EPCs in achieving a more transparent, efficient, and secure global trade environment.

Thanks for reading!

Frequently Asked Questions

How Secure is EPC Technology in Preventing Unauthorised Tracking?

EPC technology incorporates several security measures to prevent unauthorised tracking, including encryption and access control mechanisms. These protocols ensure that only authorised parties can access and interpret the data stored on EPC tags, safeguarding against unauthorised tracking and data breaches.

Can EPC Tags Withstand Harsh Environmental Conditions in Logistics and Manufacturing?

Yes, EPC tags are designed to endure harsh environmental conditions prevalent in logistics and manufacturing settings. 

EPC tags are constructed from durable materials. They can also be encased in protective shells, making them resistant to extreme temperatures, moisture, chemicals, and physical impact. 

How Does EPC Integration Impact the Consumer Experience in Retail?

EPC integration significantly enhances the consumer experience in retail by ensuring product availability, streamlining checkout processes, and enabling accurate and fast returns. This technology allows retailers to maintain accurate inventory levels and provide customers with real-time information about product availability, thereby improving overall satisfaction.

Are There Any Legal or Regulatory Considerations for Using EPC in Global Trade?

Yes, legal and regulatory considerations for using EPC in global trade include compliance with data protection laws, RFID regulations, and international trade standards. Businesses must ensure that EPC technology adheres to these regulations, especially concerning data privacy and the cross-border transfer of information.

How Does EPC Technology Facilitate Recall Processes for Defective or Dangerous Products?

EPC technology facilitates recall processes by enabling precise tracking and identification of products throughout the supply chain. In the event of a recall, businesses can quickly and accurately identify affected products and their locations, ensuring that defective or dangerous items are removed from circulation efficiently. 

What Advancements in RFID Technology Could Enhance EPC Performance?

Advancements in RFID technology that could enhance EPC performance include the development of longer-range readers, more durable and smaller tags, enhanced data storage capabilities, and improved encryption methods. These advancements would further increase EPC systems’ efficiency, reliability, and security.

How Can Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) Affordably Adopt EPC Technology?

SMEs can affordably adopt EPC technology by leveraging scalable solutions, seeking partnerships for shared infrastructure, and taking advantage of government grants or incentives designed to support technological innovation. By starting with pilot projects and progressively expanding their use of EPC, SMEs can manage costs while realising the benefits of this technology.

What Impact Does EPC Technology Have on Data Analytics and Business Intelligence?

EPC technology significantly impacts data analytics and business intelligence by providing a wealth of accurate and real-time data on inventory and supply chain operations. This data can be analysed to uncover insights into consumer behaviour, operational efficiency, and market trends, informing strategic decision-making and optimising business performance.

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