Thursday, September 15, 2011

Store More Information With 2D Barcodes

Barcodes have for many years now been the standard way of tagging products for easy identification. RFID has been threatening for some time to take over, but to date has failed to make really significant in-roads and gain mass market appeal. In the meantime, the humble black and white stripes have not rested on their laurels, with new barcode symbologies being developed over the years. One of the most significant developments of recent years has been the continuing rise of 2D barcodes, perhaps most noticeably in the last few months in the form of (quick response) QR codes on adverts.

2D Barcode Fundamentals

What sets 2D barcodes apart is the amount of data they can store compared to a traditional 1D or linear barcode. Linear barcodes generally store a key piece of information about an object - a part number or batch number - with further details such as description, expiry date, etc., only being available once received from a database.

2D barcodes allow far greater amounts of information to be stored within the same area as a linear barcode, or allow the same information to be stored in a much smaller space. Thus, the holding of part number, expiry date and batch number within a small, single barcode becomes perfectly feasible.

2D Symbology Types

Stacked symbologies contain multiple rows of linear bars and spaces - effectively a stack of two or more linear barcodes - for example, PDF417. Stacked barcodes can be read by the majority of laser scanners, laser imagers and area imagers (subject to symbol size).

Matrix symbologies encode data in a grid of dark and light components, with the position of each component relative to the barcode centre being significant. Due to their compact size matrix symbologies are particularly suitable for marking small items. They can, however, only be read by area image scanners.

Application of 2D Barcodes

Whereas a few years ago 2D barcodes were widely regarded as a niche technology, they have more recently become more mainstream. Thanks to their ability as a portable mini-database to hold multiple pieces of information about an object, business processes can benefit from having extensive information immediately available - better stock rotation based on expiry date information, more efficient tracking in the supply chain etc. Small barcode size can reduce packaging volumes, improve first time scan rates and even enable barcode labelling of small, loose and irregularly shaped items. It's no wonder that 2D barcoding is really taking off in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and logistics.

Looking Forward

Whilst 2D barcodes have suffered in the past from the required area imagers being expensive and being unable to scan barcodes at distance, technology inevitably moves on and overcomes any difficulties. With the recent advent of low cost area imagers that can scan at greater distances with acceptable first-time scan rates, it seems it will only be a matter of time before 2D barcodes become dominant (until the next great revolution).


Post a Comment