The Reverse Logistics Association
Began in 2002 as a trade association for industry specialists in Reverse Logistics. Its initial focus was on third party service providers, but this quickly evolved into a richer understanding the need for a holistic understanding of the discipline. We now understand it as a critical component of Product Life Cycle Management.
Our membership includes most major manufacturers, strongly in the electronics industry. Retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy are also quite active. Our conferences, held globally attract
thousands of participants. Our advisory board includes representatives’ form Dell, FedEx, Google, Home Depot, HP and Walmart.
We sponsor a number of industry specific Committees. One of which is our Standards Committee, chaired by Dr. Ron Lembke from the University of Nevada. That committee identified a need in the industry for a standardization of labeling—basically vocabulary. It was noted that technological advances in scanning systems enabled more automation, but this was too often hampered at the triage process which traditionally requires manual sorting and identification of incoming goods. Such returns often arrive without packaging or correct paperwork. It would facilitate more automation if products had more identifying information actually on the product that could be easily scanned by receiving. It was realized that with 2D labels (often called QR codes) there was sufficient space for the data required for receiving departments to properly triage a return.
Then, considering that QR codes today allow for up to 4000 characters of information, there was a lot more data that could be communicated. Many of the RLA members are focused on the repair and refurbishing of products. One of our members, Intel, was interested in creating a digital toe tag—a scan-able record of product repairs that would be attached to the product as a record. While also available in the cloud, an optically scan-able attached label would not require the Internet or even power to access.
I was realized that while companies could of course create their own optically scan-able labels, there would be obvious benefits to standardizing the nomenclature and label taxonomy. This would enable third party vendors to speak the same language, and use the same software. Training and IT costs would benefit. Standards have consistently shown an ability to lower costs.
The final step was the realization that these labels still have room for more information. It was also realized that most consumers want to help with product lifecycle management. They want to properly recycle products and they want an expedited system for product warranty and repair management. Too often, they simply lack the information: they threw away the packaging and the documentation. They cannot find the phone numbers. They are frustrated. A lot of manufacturers today are concerned about a metric “Net Promoter Scores.” There is an obvious relationship between consumer frustration and product loyalty. We noted that there was still room with this scanning technology to add information for the consumer to access support and warranty services as well as to get information on recycling and product recalls.
With these objectives in mind, the RLA Standards Committee set out to create a data dictionary of fields that could be universally deployed onto product labels to be placed directly into products that would include sufficient information for triage, repair and refurbishing as well as product support and recycling. Thus we created sQRrl codes.
Actually, we are technologically agnostic—our data dictionary can be applied to any scanning system including traditional bar codes or RFID. We expect even more technologies to adopt our data dictionary as our system is adopted. It is an open standard. The RLA maintains the copyright on the label titles but considers it fair use for any manufacturer to use the labels on their products. The RLA has tools to help with this process but manufacturers can develop their own systems.