Bar Code Scanners
Efficiently run businesses require many operations to flow seamlessly and without hinderance. Automatic Identification or "bar codes", as the industry is more often referred to, makes these steps more efficient and accurate. A bar code does not change how a business operates, but it makes procedures faster and more accurate, providing useful management information in a timely manner. Bar codes can be employed in virtually all organizations and all professions to increase the productivity, efficiency and accuracy of specific business processes.
A bar code is simply a set of symbols used to represent alpha-numeric information. Basically, instead of seing the number "1", or the letter "A", you would see a series of bars, both fat and thin, used to represent that number. So, why replace the alpha-numeric characters with a bar code in the first place? Humans can easily determine a letter or number, but computers aren't as quick in deciphering such information. Even though Optical Character Recognition has come a long way in recent years, it's much quicker and much more accurate for a mechanical device to decode and series of black and white lines than it is to read human text.
A number of bar code standards have been developed and refined over the years into accepted languages called symbologies. Different symbologies, or "bar code fonts" are used for different applications. By having standardized symbologies, we ensure that when you print a bar code, I will be able to scan and decode it with my equipment and you will be able to scan and decode my bar codes—as long as we both use the same code and are within the specifications dictated by the barcode standards.
A Basic Scanning System
Bar Code Printer
The bar code printer provides the first component part in a bar code system. A variety of technologies and methods exist to print a bar code label. They are usually printed onto Avery stock or printed using bar code label printers.
Bar Code Labels
As mentioned above, you need the bar code printer to print the bar code labels. In addition, you need some software application that can design your labels. These are the same labels that you will then attach to a product box. An item label can contain any combination of text, graphic or bar code information. Many label packages have pre-made templates that can easily start you on your way to designing your label. In addition, they have compliance label templates for specific industry labels such as the automobile industry.
The data collection phase occurs through the use of scanners that instantly and accurately read, capture and decipher the information contained in the bar code label. Scanners read information much faster and more reliably than humans can write or type. Thus, significantly reducing the rate or likelihood of error. There are two different types of scanners: contact and non-contact. Contact scanners required physical contact to scan as opposed to non-contact scanners which can be several inches to several feet away. Of these two types of scanners, there is also one other major attribute; they are either decoded or non-decoded. Decoded scanners have built in hardware decoders that interpret the meaning of a bar code before sending the data to the computer. Undecoded scanners simply have light sources that capture the encrypted data and sends them to a decoder of some sort. Decoders are either in-line hardware units or software decoders that run on your computer. As you may have guessed, decoded units are usually more expensive than their undecoded counterparts. They do have the distinct advantage of only having one component to worry about if something breaks down instead of trouble shooting many components to find out why your bar codes aren't reading properly.
Capturing the Data
The final component to establishing a simple bar code system is the database. Just because you've created and scanned bar codes successfully doesn't mean you've completed the loop to creating a complete and effective bar code system. To be able to effectively use the codes you've created and scanned, you need a database of some type to relay and update information. Many bar codes can be tied to item numbers for example. These item numbers can then, in turn, be linked to information about the item, such as product description, price, inventory quantity, accounting, etc. For example, let's say you have widget A, with a corresponding bar code that has the value of 1234. When you sell widget A, you scan the bar code. This, in turn, causes a chain reaction that tells your database that you: have one less widget A in stock, that you should charge $.20 for widget A, that this information should be passed onto accounting, that the product needs to be shipped only through UPS ground, etc. All of these actions were caused by scanning the bar code representing Widget A. You get the gist to the significance of having an external database. Don't be daunted by the word "Database" POS ezPower has a built in database.
Consider Using a Bar Code System
Implementing a proper bar code system offers tremendous advantages to a company. The most compelling advantages of bar coding and automatic data collection are:
Bar coding increases accuracy by reducing the likelihood of human errors from manual entry or miscommunication from misread or mislabeled items.
Bar codes are easy-to-use provided the appropriate hardware and software aspects are in place to maximize the process of automatic data collection. Obviously, pulling a trigger to enter in inventory is going to take much less effort and brain drain than it would to accurately account for all the inventory by hand.
Uniform Data Collection
Diverse compliance standards and standardized bar code symbologies ensure that bar code information is captured and relayed in a fashion that is universally understood and accepted.
Bar coding promotes timely feedback in that data is captured in real-time as it occurs enabling decisions to be made from current information.
Bar codes improve many activities that streamline workflows throughout a business. Remember when cashiers used to enter the price of your groceries by hand?...
The increased efficiencies that bar coding promotes enables companies to save costs and substantially improve their bottom line.
Some Common Bar Code Applications
Bar Codes are everywhere! Just about every type of industry uses bar codes at one point or another, and all businesses can benefit from bar codes. Listed are a few industries that most commonly use bar code technology.
As you may already be aware, manufacturers must keep tight reigns on their workflow operations. Any error in component stockpiles, for example, can cause havoc with the efficiency of a manufacturing environment. Bar codes are often times incorporated into MRP (manufacturing requirements planning) systems in this scenario, letting businesses have accurate data on the logistics of a manufacturing workflow.
Anybody with a warehouse should be using bar codes.
Shipping & Receiving
If your company consistently checks in inventory and checks out inventory, you should be using bar codes. A bar code will provide the accuracy and speed necessary to efficiently know what stock you have at any given point.
As mentioned earlier, remember when cashiers used to check you out by manually typing in prices. What a drag! Imagine all retailers doing the same thing. They would go out of business from lack of efficiency and accuracy. Today's world demands efficiency, the type of efficiency that is created by using bar codes.
Who comes to mind when you think of delivering a package to someone on-time? Usually the answer would be either FedEx or UPS. Both companies are at the apex of their industry because they've streamlined transportation of goods to a science. In doing so, a major component of their rise to the top is the incorporation and use of bar code technology. When you see them typing and scanning into their Portable Data Collectors, they are communication with their database systems in real time.
There are numerous other uses for bar codes including but not limited to Construction, Healthcare, Video stores, Work In Progress, Asset management and Tracking, Time and Attendance, Identification cards, Document management, etc.
The CCD, or "Charge Couple Device," is another common input device. A CCD has a very high ability to read bar codes quickly and easily. But it has two primary limitations. First, it has a short "read" range, and must be held no more than 1 to 4 inches from the bar code. Further, the CCD has a limited width, and will not read bar codes that are wider than the face of the input device. It is largely popular for use in point of sale applications.
The laser scanner is perhaps the most popular bar code input device. A laser scanner need not be close to the bar code to do its job. A standard range laser scanner can read a bar code from about 6 to 24 inches away, and a long range scanner can read one from perhaps 2 to 8 feet away. An extra long-range device can even read a bar code 30 feet from the device.