The Barcode Quality Partnership

 In 401
"This isn't third grade, Bob. You can speak."

“This isn’t third grade, Bob. You can speak.”

If your company relies on vendors to produce or move your product—and who doesn’t?—you are already aware that your business has many relationships that are critical to your operations and success. That may include vendors who design or print your barcodes. Not long ago we wrote about one such partnership that wasn’t functioning as it should—see The Unhelpful Vendor.

We encountered a similarly dysfunctional relationship more recently but the unhelpful partner was the customer, who was supplying the barcode file to our contact, the printer. Out of an abundance of caution, the customer insisted on providing the barcode file, ironically to eliminate possible errors. The customer did not know anything about the printer’s process so the file settings for such things as bar width reduction or resolution were not optimized. Miraculously (and unfortunately) the generic settings had worked for years, so the settings—not to mention the entire flawed process—had never been questioned. Then the inevitable, fateful day arrived and the whole house of cards collapsed.

More recently another such situation came to our attention. In this case the customer was providing the barcode in a PDF, which the printer downloads from a vendornet site. The exact process isn’t completely clear, but the file went through some sort of conversion, possibly even some scaling. It does not appear to have been created as a one-bit black-and-white image within the label program, and there are some dithering settings, either in the design file or in the printer settings that are further degrading the barcode image. What a train wreck. But it gets better—there is also visual evidence of burned out pixels in the thermal print head.

Even further back in history we wrote about barcode quality in such business relationships, and invoked the rather snarky phrase, “…you get what you enforce”. While that is true at one level, it misses a larger and more important point: in a barcode quality partnership,  like in all partnerships, communication is key.

In a true partnership it is not the responsibility of one partner or another to communicate—all parties bear responsibility. And because time is linear but learning is not, we may discover new things about which to communicate in partnerships and processes that are longstanding but imperfect.

Everyone intends to communicate well but not everyone does for a wide variety of reasons. When there is so much at stake we always recommend written standard procedures with review anniversaries. Often this seems to add complication to the partnership, but time and again it proves to be a valuable discipline with significant, measurable payback. Here at Barcode-Test we have discovered that written standard operating procedures not only nail down important processes, but expose opportunities for improvements that would otherwise have remained obscure.

Your comments and experiences are always welcome.

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