Barcode Verification – The Business Case
This is not the first time we have talked about the business case for barcode verification. It is a subject that will arise again and again because bar code testing is an all-at-once expense; barcode quality problems often develop slowly over a longer period of time. There is human psychology at work here: the most common rationale we hear for not investing in a verifier is “It is expensive and we have never had a problem.”
Some recent testing in the lab at Barcode-Test shines some light on this sort of thinking. A major commercial laundry company sent samples of Code39 labels used to track inbound inventory at their distribution points. Suddenly, after years of smooth sailing, little problems were starting to crop up. It was starting to be a problem so we got involved. It was a subtle but simple issue—one of their vendors somehow started adding an encoded space in their barcodes. The additional character was undetectable because it has no human-readable equivalent, but it caused the symbol to be too long to fit in the data field for some of their ERP system installations. In other words, it was not exactly a problem of barcode printing quality, but they had been chasing it for years, thinking is was a scanning problem.
The lab saw two occurrences of Code 128 structure problems recently, one from a pharmaceutical manufacturer, the other from a mail fulfillment company. In both cases, the structure of the data strings in the barcodes was excessively complicated, with numerous unnecessary subset shifts.
In the case of the postal processor, this made the barcodes larger than they needed to be, so the label designer had to reduce the size of the barcode to fit the label. This made the barcode more sensitive to press gain and quiet zone violations—all because of data structure mistakes.
In both cases, the companies had lost control over the label design process—somebody was just plugging numbers into a business process system, the configuration settings for which had long since been forgotten.
In both cases, print quality was acceptable, not great but not terrible. The bar codes were gradually getting worse and worse and scanning problems were beginning to occur, but until we tested their barcodes with a verifier, these clients were confident that they had “…never had a problem.”
This is where human psychology will let smart people believe that “we have never had a problem….and therefore we never will.” The business case for barcode verification, like any process control system, is rooted not in belief but in testing and confirming.
The truth is these testing clients already had a problem and didn’t know it yet, so the belief that they “…would never have a problem…” was already false. They were on the trail to disaster toward the tipping point.
The business case for barcode verification is not about confirming what you believe—it is about setting aside your beliefs to protect your company and its clients and the movement of products in the market place.