How to Check Barcode Quality
Barcodes are everywhere. Today there are barcodes on medications, patient wristbands, airline boarding passes and luggage tags, manufacturing sub-assemblies such a circuit boards and components, automotive parts, documents and files in law offices and medical practices, tickets to movies, concerts and sports events—just about everywhere.
When this technology was new, you could only find barcodes on groceries and consumer items, and in those days, when a barcode did not scan, it was mostly an inconvenience. Now that barcodes are performing much more important roles, when a barcode does not scan, or does not scan correctly, it could be life-threatening. This is why it is so important to check barcode quality. But how is this done?
Logically one might think you could check barcode quality with a scanner—after all, that’s the tool that reads it. Like many tools, they are all pretty much the same. But there are some flaws in this logic. Different scanner manufacturers use different electronics, different optics and different onboard software. The result of this is different scanning performance: some scanners are very forgiving of errors in the way barcodes are printed; others are not. What works on scanner A may not work on scanner B or C. A company that makes a product that will go into a wide variety of scanning situations much make sure the barcode on that product will work everywhere. The only way to do that is to test the barcode to make sure it meets all of the design requirements. That takes a test device that is much more accurate than a scanner—it is called a verifier.
To check barcode quality, a verifier reads a barcode like a scanner and measures its accuracy against the design specifications. It tests and grades several aspects of the barcode and gives it a final grade. Barcodes everywhere are graphically created to these same design specifications—they are an international standard. Because the verifier can check barcode quality against these specifications, barcodes that get high grades should work flawlessly wherever they are used. Therefore, barcodes printed in China should scan perfectly in California or Chile or Canada.
It takes more than just a verifier to check barcode quality: there are also requirements that specify where the barcode should be located on a package. This is to make it easy for a checkout counter operator to position the package quickly on the scanner. Barcodes on shipping containers should also be placed in a location where scanners on the conveyor will see them. Verifiers can only check barcode accuracy, not physical location. Verifiers also cannot make sure the right barcode is on the package—they just check the accuracy of the printed image.
It is important to check barcode quality for all these things, so the person using the verifier should be trained not only to understand the verification report, but also to perform the visual checks that are part of how the barcode is being used.
Barcode-Test can check barcode quality as an independent, unbiased lab. We also have training programs for people who check barcode quality as a part of their jobs.