Barcoding also enables users to work faster. Barcode scanning improves data entry speed. It also alleviates the need for correcting data entry errors; a costly
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1 Introduction Barcode technology is becoming an essential tool for successful companies. Barcoding will bring to the new millennium what the internet has done for us in the last decade. In order for businesses to effectively utilize this technology, however, a base level of knowledge of how barcoding works is necessary. This guide will lead new end-users of barcode technology through the Barcode Basics and the devices that make them work. History of Barcoding Barcoding, also known as Automatic Identification (Auto ID), was invented in the early 1970s. It was created to help large retail and grocery stores process their goods. It used to be that Cashiers would take a product, enter the price into the register by hand, and the Cash Register would calculate change and print a receipt. Today, with the help of sophisticated computer systems, a series of numbers representing the product in the form of a barcode is scanned. The computer looks up the price in a master database (the price of a product is not in the barcode!), subtracts it from the store inventory, and calculates the change. The software also creates reports regarding inventory levels, shows what products are the most and least popular, creates demographic reports on individual products and customers, and tracks much more. The key to the whole system is accurate reporting of the product purchased. Cashiers are inherently fallible and slow. Barcoding is neither. In the 1970s and 1980s, companies would hire teams of data entry professionals to enter repetitive information concerning warehouse inventory, shipping, and receiving. This laborious process took a lot of time and money and was grossly inaccurate. Barcoding became very essential for inventory tracking for many large and mid-size businesses throughout the 1980s. As the technology was adopted for industrial and warehousing applications, more commercial enterprises realized the value of improved data management and accessibility via barcoding. The use of data collection through barcoding expanded exponentially and standards were adopted. Barcoding Today Barcoding is happening everywhere. Doctor’s offices and hospitals are revolutionizing patient care. Barcodes on medication and patient ID bracelets ensure medication is given to the right patient and surgery is performed on the correct body part. Law firms are barcoding their case files to help manage account files and more accurately report billable hours. Post Offices are extensively using barcodes to track packages all over the world. Rental car companies use barcodes to help facilitate quicker car rental/returns. Virtually every mid-size and large company employs barcoding in some manner; usually in shipping and receiving stations. And the retail industry is dependent on the valuable data barcodes provide concerning product purchasing patterns. There isn’t one day when the majority of Americans do not come into contact with barcoding in some manner or another.
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2 Barcoding benefits Barcode data entry is at least 100 times faster and more accurate than traditional manual keyboard entry. Data Accuracy Accurate data is the single most important resource for any company. Precise data produces accurate reports on any operational function of a company and allows for more accurate predictions about the future needs and patterns of processes. Data accuracy is the biggest benefit of barcoding. During the 1970s, it was common for large corporations to allow for data entry errors in 85 percent of transactions. By 1985, these same companies were striving to reach precise data tolerances of 90 percent. An integrated barcode system can increase these tolerances well into the 99th percentile. Organizations that cannot afford data entry errors, such as hospitals, crime labs, professional service organizations, and many manufacturing companies, are implementing barcoding systems to achieve near 100 percent accuracy in data reporting. Efficiency Barcoding also enables users to work faster. Barcode scanning improves data entry speed. It also alleviates the need for correcting data entry errors; a costly byproduct of manual data entry. Truly beneficial efficiency occurs when processes can become automated using barcodes. A shipping/receiving dock does not need a person dedicated to counting inventory just received if it is scanned as it is unloaded. Conveyor systems can efficiently route products to the correct destination when scanners read strategically placed barcodes on product bins. Stores do not need as many Cashiers to handle customers when each register is equipped with a scanner that can quickly and accurately scan barcoded products. The real efficiency for businesses, though, occurs when these automated processes can be coordinated between different departments of the same company and other companies. When a barcode off of a medication bottle is scanned by a Home Health Care Provider delivery person at the residence of a patient, the information can be relayed from this person’s vehicle back to the company, sent to Accounts Receivable for billing, and then tells the warehouse to subtract one more bottle from inventory. A good example of how barcoding allows companies to work with each other is Federal Express. Barcoding ensures that the record of a package’s journey will be recorded at every stop along its trip. So if a company wants to know where their package is, they can look up the package’s tracking number on FedEx’s website and find out where it is. Much of this technology exists on its own, but it is barcoding that allows for the easy tracking and transfer of this information. Consistency Consistency is becoming more important to companies not only with the type of products they create or sell, but with how these products are sent to other companies that create or sell. Large companies need to receive products in a timely and efficient manner from their
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3 suppliers. They do this by demanding that all of the companies they work with adhere to certain standard principles when using barcodes. This is called Compliance Labeling. By making sure these suppliers use a certain type of barcode placed in a certain way on the package, a dependable uniformity is established. That lets each company know what each of the different barcodes on the package represent. It also allows companies to preset their scanners to only read a certain type of barcode. This allows only the right company to read the right barcode off of the right product. Where do you barcode? Retail Operations Barcode systems are most widely used in Retail Operations. The ability to track products from the manufacturer to every reseller and wholesaler to the customer who eventually purchases the product is essential for every retail establishment. Clothing stores need to know where their clothes are selling, what types of clothes are selling, and to whom their clothes are selling. Grocery stores need to know how quickly perishable items are being bought and which items are the most purchased. Barcoding allows for the easy recording of these events. Receiving & Shipping Operations Shipping companies depend on barcoding to get products transported quickly and efficiently from one transit hub to another. Just about every parcel traveling through the mail today is affixed with some sort of barcode to help aid in its travel. Without barcoding, delivery companies such as UPS would be unable to process the immense number of packages that flows through their systems each day. Barcodes with internal information are placed on incoming products at receiving docks. These labels may include information regarding the supplier, purchase order number, product information, inventory location or other pertinent information. Companies may also print a small label to affix to the packaging slip or bill of sales to track the item at a later date. These products are then tracked internally to show they went to the right department or are warehoused accordingly. Manufacturing Operations The use of barcoding in manufacturing operations is increasing. Many factories are using barcoding in the production cycle to help track the product’s progress and provide assembly and warehousing instructions. In a conveyor system, barcodes (usually on product bins) indicate the particular route a product must follow along the conveyor path to receive the appropriate parts. After the production cycle, many of these barcodes are still used as job tickets after the sale and help improve customer service and quality control. The information contained on the label, which serves as a guarantee of the product’s original features and maintenance history, may improve product resale, thereby boosting the initial value of the item.
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4 The durability of a label printer is paramount when considering it for manufacturing environments. Depending on the amount of labels to be printed daily, how the label is to be used, the type of physical dangers the printer is exposed to, and how often the printer is running non-stop, your choice of printer differs widely. Be sure to research what your options are before you pay for a several thousand dollar printer and it doesn’t stand up to the requirements you had set out for it. Asset Management Many companies have a need to track company assets internally. Whether it’s a tool shed where management needs to make sure all of the tools bought for the company stays with the company, or is used to manage taxation related to the depreciation of office assets, barcoding is the easiest way to track this process. For many companies, security management tasks require capital assets such as computers, office furniture, machinery, tools, and appliances be barcoded and tracked. This enables the company to record when items have changed locations, been maintained, or track what software has been loaded to what computer. This type of data can be invaluable for office managers tasked with the requisition and maintenance of a company’s assets. Warehousing Whether by barcoding products entering receiving stations or by manually barcoding products already in inventory, barcoding trims inventory and costs associated with managing the supply of raw materials and finished goods. Barcoding allows people who physically move inventory in/out/throughout the warehouse, or pickers, to be much more efficient. Barcoding, Enterprise-wide computer systems, and warehouse management systems can produce real-time reports detailing every product in inventory, giving warehouse managers the confidence to improve inventory efficiency. The growth of pallet and shelf labeling because of barcoding has allowed many products too small or inconvenient to be barcoded to be grouped with like products in a barcoded area. Office & Customer Service Applications Many non-industrial and non-retail operations are beginning to adopt barcoding systems. Law firms, hospitals, and service organizations are using barcodes to mark files and identify clients. Electricians are barcoding cables and data ports to aid in identification. Home delivery professionals are using barcoding and signature capture devices to record transactions more accurately. Many companies are using small barcode printers for many types of internal tracking and mail. How does a barcode work? Traditional one-dimensional barcodes are usually made up of black bars printed on a white background. The bars are either wide or narrow and the spaces between the bars are likewise either wide or narrow. The length of the bars have no significance other than to make it easier for the scanner to find the barcode.
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5 Barcodes are measured by the width of the narrow bar and are recorded in mils, or 1/1000 inch. A 15 Mil bar code, for instance, has a narrow bar that is 15/1000 inches wide. Further, “quiet zones,” or blank spaces to the left and right of barcode symbols, are included to insure the barcode can be read. The process of reading a barcode begins when a device directs a light beam through a barcode. The device contains a small sensory reading element. This sensor detects the light being reflected back from the barcode, and converts light energy into electrical energy. The result is an electrical signal that can be converted into data. (See Figure 1) Figure 1 Types of barcodes 1-Dimensional UPC /EAN
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7 is that it can encode all ASCII characters in the shortest possible code length. The disadvantage is, because it has four different bar and space widths rather than two, more demands are put on printing and decoding technologies. Interleaved 2 of 5 Interleaved 2 of 5 code is designed to encode numbers only. It is a two level code, meaning that the bars and spaces have only two widths. The code is interleaved in that one digit is represented by a series of five bars, two of which are always wide. The next digit is represented by five spaces, two of which are always wide. For this reason an I 2 of 5 code always contains an even number of digits. A leading zero is usually added if an odd number of characters are to be encoded. All codes have unique patterns at the start and end of the code. This tells the barcode reader which direction it is reading the code. Most all codes can be scanned front to back or back to front, as long as the scanner knows which way it’s going. Because of the simple start/stop pattern it is possible for a decoder, looking for an I 2 of 5 code, to mistake printing for the code and try and decode it. Many times the decoder will be successful in decoding a two-digit code. To avoid potential problems with I 2 of 5 code, always use four digits or more. In addition, always try to use the same number of digits and program your decoder to only accept a code with only that number of digits. 2-Dimensional In 1984 the trend to portable databases began when the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) published an application standard for shipping and parts identification labels which consisted of four “stacked” Code 39 barcodes. These contained part number, quantity, supplier, and serial number. Intermec introduced the first truly two-dimensional barcode in 1988 called Code 49. Since Code 49’s introduction, six other codes have either been invented or have been redesigned to meet the need to place a portable database in as little space as possible. The main difference between a 2-dimensional code and a 1-dimensional code is that the height as well as the length of the symbol stores information. In fact, a 2-dimensional code is often referred to as a stacked symbology or multi-row code. Initially, 2-dimensional symbologies were developed for applications where only a small amount of space was available for an Auto ID symbol. The first application for such symbols was unidose packages in the healthcare industry. The electronics industry also showed an early interest in very high density barcodes because free space on electronics assemblies was scarce. There are well over 20 different 2-D symbologies available today. The following is a list of a few of the more popular.
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8 PDF 417 The PDF 417 and Data Matrix codes are the most commonly used 2-dimensional symbologies today. PDF 417 is a stacked symbology and was invented by Ynjiun Wang in 1991 at Symbol Technologies. PDF stands for Portable Data File, and the symbology consists of 17 modules each containing 4 bars and spaces (thus the number “417”). The structure of the code allows for an information density of between 100 and 340 characters. The code is in the public domain. General Motors announced in February of 2000 that all of its suppliers must convert to a PDF 417 standard for all parts and shipments. Data Matrix Data Matrix from CiMatrix is a 2-D matrix code designed to pack a lot of information in a very small space. A Data Matrix symbol can store between 1 and 500 characters. The symbol is also scalable between a 1-mil square to a 14-inch square. Since the information is encoded by absolute dot position rather relative dot position, it is not as susceptible to printing defects as is traditional barcode. The coding scheme has a high level of redundancy with the data “scattered” throughout the symbol. According to the company, this allows the symbol to be read correctly even if part of it is missing. The most popular application for Data Matrix is the marking of small items such as integrated circuits and printed circuit boards. These applications make use of the code’s ability to encode approximately fifty characters of data in a symbol 2 or 3mm square and the fact that the code can be read with only a 20 percent contrast ratio. The code is read by CCD video camera (also called an Imager) or CCD scanner. Symbols between one-eight inch square to seven inches square can be read at distances ranging from contact to 36 inches away. Typical reading rates are 5 symbols per second. There are many other 2-dimensional symbologies. Some are proprietary while others have been introduced to the public. To ensure industry standards, not all of these symbologies can be used. But the following list provides good examples of how 2-dimensional symbologies have evolved into what are standards today. Here is a list in alphanumeric order of many of the other 2-dimensional symbologies in use.
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9 3-DI 3-DI was developed by Lynn Ltd. and is a proprietary code. It is most suited for identification marks on shiny, curved metal surfaces such as surgical instruments. ArrayTag ArrayTag was invented by Dr. Warren D. Little of the University of Vistoria and is a proprietary code. ArrayTags can encode hundreds of characters and can be read at distances up to 50 meters and is optimized for reading at a distance or in variable lighting situations. The principle application of the code is to track logs and lumber. Aztec Code Aztec Code was invented by Andy Longacre of Welch Allyn Inc. in 1995 and is in the public domain. Aztec Code was designed for ease-of-printing and ease-of-decoding. The smallest Aztec Code encodes 13 numeric or 12 alphabetic characters, while the largest symbol encodes 3832 numeric or 3067 alphabetic characters. Code 1 Code 1 was invented by Ted Williams in 1992 and is the earliest public domain matrix symbology. The symbol can encode ASCII data, error correction data, function characters, and binary encoded data. Code 1 can hold 2218 alphanumeric characters or 3550 digits. This code is currently used in the health care industry for medicine labels and the recycling industry to encode container content for sorting.
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10 Code 16K Code 16K was developed by Ted Williams in 1989 to provide a simple to print and decode multiple row symbology. Williams also developed Code 128, and the structure of 16K is based on Code 128. Not coincidentally, 128 squared happened to equal 16,000 or 16K for short. Code 16K resolved an inherent problem with Code 49. Code 49’s structure requires a large amount of memory for encoding and decoding tables and algorithms. 16K is a stacked symbology. Code 49 Code 49 was developed by David Allais in 1987 at the Intermec Corporation to fill a need to pack a lot of information into a very small symbol. Code 49 accomplishes this by using a series of barcode symbols stacked one on top of another. The code is a continuous, variable- length symbology that can encode the complete ASCII 128-character set. Its structure is actually a cross between UPC and Code 39. Intermec has put the code in the public domain. CP Code CP Code is a proprietary code developed by CP Tron, Inc. It is made up of square matrix symbols with a L-shaped peripheral Finder and adjacent timing marks. CP Code is visually similar to a Data Matrix Code. DataGlyphs DataGlyph is a proprietary code developed by Xerox PARC. DataGlyphs are designed to merge with the design of the product they are printed on. DataGlyphs can be logos or tints behind text or graphics. Applications include questionnaires, direct-mail reply forms and surveys and business cards. This symbol is read using an image scanner.
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