If there’s one tool that plays a very crucial role in the effective and efficient operation of our economy, it’s Barcode! The simple collection of black and white bars has become so ubiquitous that it’s used in the identification of almost all products found at a grocery store or a supermarket. So, what is special about this Barcode technology and how it claims to have changed the retailing industry for good?
Someone’s hard work can be another’s stepping-stone to success! Barcode was the brainchild of Norman Joseph Woodland, but it is George Laurer who is credited for bringing the idea to fruition. Woodland had developed a system based on barcode symbology in 1950. It was called the Bulls-Eye Barcode. The coding system provided a description of a product and its price in a code readable by a machine, but the method was quite complicated. Also, the cost of laser and computing technology then was a major impediment in the development of the system. Two decades later, in the 1970s, Laurer put Woodland’s idea to work by developing a rectangle system and a scanner with strips instead of circles. This system proved less expensive and most of us see it as barcodes today. Let us try to understand-
- How Barcode system works
- Types of Barcodes
- How Barcode became popular with retailing
1] How Barcode works
The combination of black and white bars on a barcode represents different text characters which follow a set algorithm for that barcode type. When the sequence of elements is changed, you get different text altogether. Then, a barcode scanner reads this pattern of black and white, it translates them into a line of text your computer can understand. We have barcode scanners that can read 1D, 2D barcodes. In comparison to 1D, 2D barcodes are a bit more complex as they organize information vertically and horizontally.
2] Types of barcode
Universal Product Code (UPC)
It refers to a type of code printed on retail product packaging that helps in identifying the item. The UPC mainly consists of 2 parts,
- The machine-readable barcode – a series of unique black bars
- A unique 12-digit number beneath black bars.
International Article Number (IAN)
Originally known as European Article Number, EAN was renamed to International Article Number. This type of barcodes can be found either on the outer packaging of a product or the back cover of a book. It consists of a 13 digit code found suitable for the high volume scanning environment.
It is a computer-friendly barcode and represents all 128 ASCII code characters (numbers, upper case/lower case letters, symbols and control codes). Its font supports up to seven different heights. All barcodes with seven different heights are provided with different names,
Code 39 marks discrete barcode symbology with a variable length. It begins and ends with a ‘*’ character. This character is also called as a start/stop character. The code finds its application in industries and is mandated for many automotive industries and Department of Defense standard labels.
PDF417 is a stacked linear barcode format used in a variety of applications such as identification cards, inventory management, and transport. It consists of 3 to 90 rows of data that can encode up to 1850 ASCII or 2725 numeric characters.
A GS1 DataBar is relatively a new Barcode symbology designed to fit a large amount of information into a smaller amount of space than a regular UPC bar code. It is mostly used to label fresh foods as it can hold information like an item’s batch number or expiry date, in addition to other attributes used at the point-of-sale such as the item weight.
3] How Barcode became popular with retail and manufacturing
When barcode technology was deployed in business processes, an automatic system for capturing product information was developed. This enabled shorter queues at checkout and just-in-time deliveries, making the business more attractive.
Besides, it also became easy to keep a track of inventory as the product details no more had to be fed manually but via a Barcode scanner. A quick scan via scanner displayed every detail of the product (the person at the counter could also check the expiry date) and the software connected to the scanner generated the bill instantly. All of this made running a huge, diversified, logistically complex operation much easier, increased productivity and reduced human errors.