Barcode Test LLC is a company whose stock and trade is barcode quality. We hear on a nearly daily basis how imperiled we are, hastening into extinction. Digital imaging scanners are capable of reading severely damaged or poorly printed barcodes; some symbologies have significant error correction capabilities; barcode design software eliminates the possibility of non-compliant data entry; and advancements in digital printing technology has removed many of the variables associated with platemaking, impression and dot gain.
So-called invisible “barcodes” have made inroads into traditional barcode space, promising to speed up point-of-sale checkout. Other forms of marking that use random patterns instead of parallel lines and spaces or a grid of dots, have emerged; some of them are imaged at very small geometries, nearly invisible. Because of this they are claimed to be very secure.
We are Toast
At a recent AIDC industry trade group meeting, we heard about recent growth in adoption of RFID, which has long been predicted to replace—or at least reduce—the use of barcodes. Printable chipless tags are driving down costs, making RFID more competitive with barcodes. Barcode verification and Barcode Test LLC will soon be toast, according to some.
There is no question that these technologies have their place but they are not without tradeoffs, and they are not without quality and performance concerns comparable to barcodes. Rather than obsolete the barcode, it is more likely that barcodes will continue to do what they best, and be replaced by technologies that do some things better in certain applications. Right now, none of the newer technologies are less expensive or more secure than printed barcodes.
Frequently the claim that barcodes are becoming obsolete is in conjunction with the belief that technology is—or has already—made barcode verification unnecessary. This extrapolation is a vast stretch. At GS1 Connect last month, we learned that poor data quality has a significant financial impact on supply chains, brick-and-mortal operations and sales, and e-commerce. If technology has eliminated print quality as a barcode performance issue, it has only provided a partial solution. As we have seen with some ink jet systems, the promise of high quality barcodes is sometimes overstated.
Barcode Verification Is Not Obsolete Yet
Change is most certainly in the air, when isn’t it? Maybe barcode verification will be rendered obsolete by some advancement at some point in the future, but not today. While it is true that we encounter fewer bad barcodes in the checkout line, they do still happen. And they are very disruptive, not just to the shopping experience, but to the inventory system, the supply chain and the trading partner relationship.
“But verifiers are so expensive…” we often hear. Admittedly it is a hard sale when barcodes themselves are so cheap and reliable. But what is the real cost of a bad barcode compared to a “very expensive” verifier, amortized over a very conservative 5 year service life? It is not unusual to find 10 and 15 year old verifiers that still calibrate and perform to spec.
Barcode verification may become obsolete in the future, but in the present it makes business sense. The FDA’s UDI rule, for example, states that barcode quality must be verified, and references the ISO/IEC standards to define print quality.
Paul Bergé, President of Axicon Auto ID, told of a recent reseller experience in a presentation to GS1 Connect:
“Within 3 weeks of acquiring the verifier, the customer says they saved $50,000 in chargebacks.”