Barcode Scanners: How Do They Work?

Barcode

As consumers, we see barcodes and barcode scanners used all the time: purchasing from any retail store, renting a car, attending major events, flying, and even going to the doctor. They’re in our social media apps and on store windows.

Barcodes are more than lines and spaces on individual products: Barcode scanning systems help businesses track an amazing amount of information which, in turn, increases productivity and efficiency. You will improve your business’ processes by understanding how barcodes work and by knowing how to use them effectively in partnership with a quality barcode scanner.

THE BARCODE

A barcode is used to encode information in a visual pattern readable by a machine. Barcodes are used for a variety of reasons including tracking products, prices, and stock levels for centralized recording in a computer software system.

In June of 1974, the first barcode appeared on a pack of Wrigley Company chewing gum. Today, barcodes can be found on almost every item for purchase within a store as well as on inventory waiting to be shipped out. Businesses as massive as Wal-Mart and Amazon use barcode and scanners; so do small-town and home businesses that need to keep track of where they’re sending their e-commerce orders. 

There are two types of barcodes – linear and 2D. The most visually recognizable, the UPC (Universal Product Code), is a linear barcode made up of two parts: the barcode and the 12-digit UPC number. The first six numbers of the barcode is the manufacturer’s identification number. The next five digits represent the item’s number. The last number is called a check digit which enables the scanner to determine if the barcode was scanned correctly or not.

A linear barcode typically holds any type of text information. In contrast, a 2D barcode is more complex and can include more information in the code: price, quantity, web address or image. A linear barcode scanner can’t read a 2D barcode; requiring the use of an image scanner for reading the information embedded in a 2D barcode. Popular QR codes are a 2D barcode that can store a large amount of information compared to a 1D barcode.

Check out Wasp’s “What is a Barcode, Anyway?” video to learn the basics of barcodes in under a minute.

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THE BARCODE SCANNER

A barcode scanner usually consists of three different parts including the illumination system, the sensor, and the decoder.

In general, a barcode scanner “scans” the black and white elements of a barcode by illuminating the code with a red light, which is then converted into matching text. More specifically, the sensor in the barcode scanner detects the reflected light from the illumination system (the red light) and generates an analog signal that is sent to the decoder. The decoder interprets that signal, validates the barcode using the check digit, and converts it into text.

This converted text is delivered by the scanner to a computer software system holding a database of the maker, cost, and quantity of all products sold. This video is a quick lesson in barcode scanners and highlights the basic differences between a Contact Scanner, Laser Scanner, and an Imager.

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Because barcode scanners are variable and include diverse capabilities, some are better suited for certain industries due to reading distance and to work volume capacity.

Outlined below are a few of the available barcode scanners with a little insight into how each works.

Pen-type Reader: consists of a light source and a photodiode on the tip of the pen.

Laser Scanner: works similarly to a Pen-type Reader but uses a laser beam.

Camera-based Reader: installed with camera and image processing techniques in the reading of barcodes.

CCD Reader: has several light sensors to scan barcodes.

Omni-Directional Barcode Scanner: highly advanced and very efficient in decoding badly printed, crumpled, and even torn barcodes on products.

For more information about barcode scanners and how they read barcodes, check out our “How Barcode Scanners Work” infographic.

Increasingly, companies are using their smartphones as makeshift barcode readers—and while that method can work great in some settings, many companies require rugged, reliable, dedicated barcode scanners and mobile computers to get the job done.

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HOW SCANNERS MAKE LIFE EASIER

There are lots of companies that use barcodes and scanners on a daily basis, but few where using one could be a matter of life or death.

All About Kids Pediatrics in Orlando, FL sees up to 100 kids a day, providing healthcare and measures such as vaccinations. Barcodes are now required or mandated by federal agencies when it comes to administering medication, but the government hardly oversees the quality of the barcodes or scanners used—meaning the door is open to errors, due to poor contrast, modulation, and other factors.


Related Article: BARCODE: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BARCODES

According to their Wasp Barcode case study, “The use of barcode technology in medication administration has reduced All About Kids’ medication administration documentation time by 50%.”

How? Simple: They no longer needed to spend precious minutes—adding up to hours—  capturing and recording medication administration data and electronically compiling reports for submission and compliance. A quick scan does everything that filling out a report used to.

Barcode scanners are found in many quality inventory management and asset management systems across the country, from TopGolf’s warehouses to the basement of the University of Phoenix Stadium. But rarely is their reliability to crucially tested than in the offices of All About Kids—and they pass that test daily.

WASP BARCODE SCANNERS

Wasp scanners are built withstand tough industrial environments and delicate healthcare environments. They are designed to provide customers with high-quality machines that easily read barcodes at an increased speed, letting you focus on other – more important – responsibilities.

Does your company need to improve its efficiency and productivity? Understanding how barcodes and barcode scanners work and where they fit into a barcode-based system will help you determine if it’s appropriate to implement in your small business. Visit the Wasp website for more information about barcodes, barcode scanners, and barcode printers.

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Paul Trujillo

Paul Trujillo

Paul Trujillo is a Product Marketing Manager at Informatics specializing in Inventory Warehouse Management and Supply Chain product lines. His nearly 15 years of experience has put him at the forefront of industry technology and developing trends.