Barcode Quality Procedures Manual: Ten Essential Steps

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There is an axiom in the quality community that goes like this: “you get what you enforce.” In my 30+ years in the barcode quality business I have found this adage to be true. If you don’t tell your vendors or your employees or your business partners what you expect or if you are responsible for the barcode and don’t do any of this yourself, you have no right to any expectations.  A barcode BCT Policy_and_Procedures-Coverquality procedures manual is the best way to make your expectations known and how they can be achieved.

Here are the ten essential items in your barcode quality checklist:

  1. Identify the type of barcode or 2D symbol. While it does not happen a lot, it is amazing (and disastrous) that it happens at all: the package is supposed to bear a UPC and somehow it ends up with some other symbology on it. Tell everybody what you expect.
  2. Specify the minimum passing grade. Tell everybody what you expect as a minimum passing grade—and tell them how you expect it to be tested and reported.
  3. How and how often will those responsible for the barcode test the barcode? Don’t leave it vague—tell them. You will pay for it if they do—and you will really pay for it if they don’t.
  4. Select the right verifier. Make sure it has the right field of view or scan width and the right aperture for the smallest element or X dimension in the symbol. Also make sure the verifier is ISO compliant.
  5. Calibrate the verifier before every test. An un-calibrated verifier is a rubber ruler.
  6. Configure the verifier to the symbol type: enable (or disable) check digit grading; enable (or disable) appropriate industry applications. Do you (or your customer) require job number, batch number, purchase order number, press number or other references on the verification report?
  7. Link the samples to the verification reports. This is easy with serialized barcodes; a system must be created to do this with static, redundant barcodes. Figure out how to do it.
  8. Determine the right testing protocol. Is 100% verification required? Spot-checking by time interval? Spot checking by impression number? Post-production sampling? Decide what is appropriate—then do it.
  9. Execute the procedure and collect the data according to the protocol.  Monitor the process to make sure the data is being collected and the data makes sense.  Make sure report linkages to samples are working.  Most importantly, make sure the test results are within specified tolerances and not deteriorating over time. Continuous or periodic testing helps you map the rate of change; this gives you time to plan adjustments before the results violate quality requirements.
  10. Collate the data, save it and communicate it in accordance with the agreed –upon procedures.

This may seem like an arduous process—and that is true at first, starting from nothing. Once the steps are identified, which is what I have just done for you, it can be reduced to a check-list.  It is all about knowing what you require of your vendor or your own internal processes—and then communicating it so everybody’s expectations are synchronized.

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