Isn’t Barcode Verification Obsolete? A Case History

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Scanners are increasingly better at reading low quality barcodes. Barcode printing has also improved: higher resolution, better control over line width and gain. Haven’t these advancements finally rendered barcode verification an expensive and redundant waste? Consider a current case history.

Company XYZ (name changed to protect identity) distributes clothing using offshore contract manufacturers. They utilize warehouses and 3PL’s all across the US. This year they have been paying chargebacks on a monthly basis so they contacted a major barcode verifier reseller, looking for a solution.

During a lengthy telephone conversation, the reseller learned that the clothing company’s recent problems stem from a Code 128 compliance label, printed on thermal printers used in the warehouses and 3PL’s. Each location may have a changing population of numerous such printers which are continuously being maintained, repaired or replaced. Just tracking it all can be a daunting chore in their fast-moving business.

At the invitation of the clothing manufacturer, the reseller visited a nearby warehouse as part of the get acquainted process. There is was discovered that some of the printers were producing compliance labels with ANSI grade A barcodes alongside of other printers that were producing ANSI F barcodes. While the clothing manufacturer was shocked at the discovery, at the same time they were relieved to finally know what the problem was, and it was linked directly to printer maintenance. The A grade barcodes were produced on printers with recently-replaced print heads.

The reseller provided a demo verifier, based on the make and model they determine would best serve the manufacturer’s requirements. In a short time—a matter of a week or two—the manufacturer contacted the reseller, delighted with the results. They had prevented over $50K in chargebacks just in the brief period during which they had the demo verifier.

Could these problems have been averted with an improved printer maintenance program? The manufacturer recognized that printer maintenance was just one of many potential problems that could arise in their compliance label printing operation. Incorrectly structured Code 128 barcodes could present a compliance problem. Inadvertently using a wrong symbology could occur. Only a barcode verifier could detect all possible errors and for that reason, they decided to install verifiers at all locations, and to require their 3PL’s to verify their labels as well.

There may be procedural actions that can be taken in lieu of installing expensive barcode verifiers. But the reality is that supply chain systems have so many moving parts, from label design software and updates, users of various levels of competency, label and ribbon sourcing and supplier changes, printer maintenance challenges and a host of other factors—a barcode verifier is the best opportunity to aggregate all of those factors and variables into one, final test. In the overall scheme of things, that is pretty cheap insurance.

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