The humble barcode has come far. And with good reason. It’s a great way to uniquely ID pretty much anything – from products, to tickets and even people (e.g. patient wristbands in hospitals) – and it accelerates and improves data capture: manual data entry generates 10 errors for every 1,000 keystrokes, whereas barcode scanning errors occur in around 1 in every 10,000 scans.
Unless, that is, barcodes are damaged. And when you think about what codes go through as they travel on items across the supply chain, that’s more common than you might think.
IT’S TOUGH BEING A BARCODE
Take a barcode on a product being shipped to a warehouse. The code may get torn or damaged by being rubbed against other goods. It may get wet as it’s loaded from pallet to truck. And once in the warehouse, it may be exposed to hot or cold temperatures or condensation. While these problems can be avoided by using high-quality barcode labelling solutions, the point is that in many instances, from the moment a barcode is created, there is a chance that it might degrade – and become harder to read.
When this happens, our barcode moves from being a convenient way to accelerate the tracking, tracing and payment of items, to something that can inhibit business processes. Think about when you check out in the supermarket – when a barcode is damaged, the cashier has to manually enter the data into their till. That same process will have to happen right through the delivery chain. So let’s say you run a warehouse. If the code on our product is damaged, your people will have to manually type its data as it journeys through the business – when it’s received in the warehouse, when it’s put away, when it’s packed, when it’s shipped and when it’s received in-store or delivered to a customer.
You get the point. What may appear to be a small inconvenience actually adds up to a lot of lost time for the business. And when you add in the possibility of errors caused by manual data, the impact of poor quality barcodes can be significant – from delays to inaccurate or incomplete orders.
TIME TO THINK IMAGING TECHNOLOGY
So what can be done? If a barcode is severely damaged it will need to be re-printed. However, by using the latest array imaging scanners, your teams will have fewer problems in securing a successful scan. This is because such scanners are built around similar technology used in digital cameras. Indeed, unlike legacy laser devices – which use a sharp line to read only a portion of the code – array imagers take a picture of the whole symbol to find the best part of it, and, by using sophisticated image processing software, can better compensate for damaged, scratched or faint codes. The result is faster reads, fewer interruptions to workflows, more accurate data capture and smoother business processes.
There are other reasons why I think it’s time that businesses should move to imagers. In my next blog, I take a closer look at these.
Read about Zebra's 2D imaging scanners here.