Is it true that a barcode number is always split into 4 parts?

(No)

 

Goals: 

   Please click the [ Mark Complete ] button at the bottom of this page when you’ve completed these goals:

  • Explain the origin of the common myth that a barcode number is split into 4 parts.

 

NO, it is a common myth that a barcode number is ALWAYS split into 4 parts

For example, the myth is even perpetuated here in Wikipedia:

The 13-digit EAN-13 number consists of four components:

  • Prefix – 3 digits (often called a country code)
  • Manufacturer Code – variable length
  • Product Code – variable length
  • Check digit

This concept was true-ish for many years.

Originally, GS1 issued blocks of 100,000 numbers to manufacturers.

These were numbered 00000 to 99999 and were digits 8-12 of the 13-digit numbers.

When combined with a 3 digit country code at the start of the number, this left digits 4 to 7 for the ‘manufacturer code’.

However, GS1 realised that issuing blocks of 100,000 numbers to companies that might only need a few barcode numbers was wasteful, and with a limited quantity of EAN13 numbers available (a million million are available worldwide at the most), they needed to change their system. In various countries they changed the starting block of issued numbers, reducing it to 10,000 or 1,000 or 100 or 10 … or even 1.

So, considering the number above:

If it was issued as a block of 100,000 numbers, then it could be broken down as –
070 = country code      5632 = manufacturer code           44194 = product code          7 = check digit
This can be written as  cccmmmmpppppc (ccc = country code, mmmm = manufacturer code, ppppp= product code, c = check digit)

And, this is what GS1 has done in New Zealand and Australia at least.

They issue single numbers to manufacturers, and in doing so they clearly demonstrate that this ‘manufacturer code’ concept is not always true, and is definitely not important or essential.